No Game No Life – 04

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With the proper wisdom, the weakest can defeat the strongest—that’s the credo of King Blank; the newly-risen combo of Sora and Shiro, having beaten Zell fair and square at one of the most ludicrous games of “chess” I’ve ever witnessed. Even her massive and egregious amount of cheating with Elven magic couldn’t topple the formidable wisdom Blank possesses. The One True God Tet plucked them from a world where they were only kings of a small room into a world seemingly designed to be ruled by them.

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After dipping into his expertise in dating sims to win the crown, Sora uses his experience playing Civ to iron out the domestic problems with Elkia, then delivers a long and stirring (and long) motivational speech to its demoralized populace. He tells them Imanity had the monopoly on weakness and wisdom before war was banned, and the first step to regaining their old stature is to acknowledge and embrace it’s position as the weakest race in Disboard. Dora is dazzled by their proficiency in matters of state and knack for igniting a crowd.

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Lounging in their new royal chambers, the siblings are visited by Tet once more, who asks them how they like the place. Sora cuts to the heart of matters: when Tet lost to them at chess, it may well have been the first time Tet lost at anything. Therefore, Tet brought them to Disboard as a challenge, the first stage of which was to become King of Elkia. The next step is to conquer the world—commanding all sixteen races like sixteen chess pieces. Then they’ll be ready to take Tet on.

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After that tough battle in which their opponent brazenly cheated, Blank’s victory and rise to the throne was satisfying (and Zell bursting into tears was an amusing surprise), but I’m curious to see where the show is going. If Sora and Shiro really aren’t ever going to lose a game, the show’s success will hinge on how craftily and awesomely they win (and the opponents not always being pushovers). Delivering a show in which winning is a forgone conclusion will be tough to pull off, but despite their recent success Blank still feel like underdogs, so we look forward to the endeavor.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 04

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A fourth member unexpectedly joins the group at the end of this episode, but before the trio becomes a quartet, they’re saved by Dominica Scola, who invites them to her manor, and everything there is a bit…off. First of all, the place is run down and deserted, save a cat, and completely filled with statues and paintings of Scoda.

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When Tooru executes Plan A—simply asking for Goz’s remains—it’s no surprise the warrior ruler refuses; judging from the state of her existence, she’s longed for a good fight for some time. But I like how he’ll do this each time: after all, the goal isn’t to get into fights, but to fulfill the wishes of the master, i.e. Chaika.

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The twist is that the ruler they meant to take the remains from died herself years ago, having fulfilled her purpose: defeating Goz wih the other seven. That left her dragoon alone and without a purpose, or rather to find a new purpose. It’s the dragoon they fight, not Dominica, and she can take many forms, from her master to a metal dragon to a cat to what must be her “default” form, a girl called Fredrika.

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Having a defined purpose in life is a recurring theme here, with Chaika’s purpose seemingly to gather her father’s remains. By hiring Tooru, she gave him a fresh purpose suited to his nature. Interestingly, Akari, who seems to hold a legitimate flame for him, wasn’t able to do this, but could only stand by as he “rotted on the vine” while she adapted to a quiet domestic life.

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By allowing (or at least tolerating) Fredrika to accompany them, they’re gaining a powerful temporary ally, and she’s gaining a new purpose: to follow Tooru and eventually kill him, presumably for his transgressions. As for us, we get to hear Saito Chiwa show off her vocal range.

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End-of-Month Rundown – April 2014

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12. Gokukoku no Brynhildr

Brynhildr had an intriguing start, but my main qualm continues to be a jarring lack of consistency in tone throughout episodes. The fourth episode in particular was quite egregious in jumping from gratuitous violence and high school harem situations with some truly dark and horrifying concepts like human experimentation and body liquification. It’s an unbalanced top right now, and it may fall right off our watchlist if it doesn’t improve—MagicalChurlSukui

Average Rating: 6.25 (4 of 13 episodes watched)
MAL Score: 7.56

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10. Akuma no Riddle

This show has settled into what I consider to be a good solid formula moving forward: there’s about as many assassins as episodes left, meaning about one will go after Haru every week, during which time we’ll learn more about them. Of course, if the show wants to switch things up by having multiple assassins join forces, have more assassins join Haru and Tokaku’s side, that works for me, too. And while each has saved the other’s life at least once, the romantic relationship teased in the OP has yet to pan out a quarter of the way into the show. Sakura Trick this is not—Braverade

Average Rating: 7.25 (4 of 12 episodes watched)
MAL Score: 7.46

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10. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei

With a full 26-episode run, Mahouka taking its time establishing its world, systems, relationships and factions, but it’s great seeing the apparent “weed” Tatsuya being able to stand toe-to-toe with the most elite “blooms” the school has to offer, due to his mysterious, unique powers. Miyuki’s very close bond with her brother is apparently going to be a continuing source of comedy, but so far it’s been overused—MagicalChurlSukui

Average Rating: 7.25 (4 of 13 first cour episodes watched)
MAL Score: 8.00

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9. Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin

While I’m enjoying the growing bond between the lead guy and the master detective, the true strength of Ryuugajou so far is the execution of its puzzles, much like No Game No Life hinges on well-executed games. So far, I’ve really enjoyed the initial inscrutability of the puzzles, as well as the ways the group figures things out and use their combined skills to solve them. I’m less enamored of the threat of a Big Bad Organization aiming to ruin all the fun, however—sesameacrylic

Average Rating: 7.33 (3 of 11 episodes watched)
MAL Score: 7.58

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7. Mekakucity Actors

Mekakucity aims to be hip and stylish, and in some regards in succeeds due to its quirky editing and “camerawork” typical of Shaft/Shinbou joints (see Nisekoi). And after three episodes, the nine-member group seems to be coming together nicely, and I like the diverse personalities (and powers). But this is a stylish show in a season full of stylish shows, so it will have to find a way to distinguish itself—sesameacrylic

Average Rating: 7.67 (3 of 12 episodes watched)
MAL Score: 7.74

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7. Hitsugi no Chaika

Like Spice & Wolf and Sunday Without God, this show brings together strangers who become friends on an exciting adventure through an alternate-universe world. I haven’t been shy with the FF comparisons, meant as complimentary and not knocks. The mission of the core trio couldn’t be simpler on the surface, but I like how they could end up inadvertently throwing the realm into chaos if they ultimately succeed, and all the parties trying to keep that from happening. The battles and beasts are also awesome so far—MagicalChurlSukui

Average Rating: 7.67 (3 of 12 episodes watched)
MAL Score: 7.36

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4. No Game No Life

NGNL carries on the always entertaining tradition of an elite gamer suddenly finding his skills are useful in reality, like SAO (returning this Summer) and God Only Knows. In this case, it’s and all new world, and a rich and detailed one at that, with its own gamey systems of operation. It was a very auspicious and ambitious start, and the games are played out as intense battles full of internal analysis and strategizing. The show can get a little hyper at times, but I prefer energy to listlessness—sesameacrylic

Average Rating: 8.00 (3 of 12 episodes watched)
MAL Score: 8.46

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4. Nisekoi

With just four episodes left, two things are clear: One, Raku has to make a decision; and Two, that decision is incredibly tough. I’ve shuffled my ranking of the four girls around plenty, but the thing is, every time I’ve settled on a ranking, an episode focusing on one girl comes around to remind you that ranking them is a waste of time, because they’ve all demonstrated they make equally great choices. I will say that Raku should go with the girl he currently likes quite a lot at present, and that’s Kosaki. But that could change next week—sesameacrylic

Average Rating: 8.00 (3 of 8 second cour episodes watched)
MAL Score: 8.16

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4. Black Bullet

With four straight 8s out of the gate, it would be argued Bullet is the most consistent Spring show. I’m enjoying the fast-paced action, but also the close relationship established between the core duo, suggesting they’re not only a formidable at fighting gastrea, but at questioning the prejudice and oppression that infects the world they’re protecting, taking up the social justice baton passed to it by WizBar last season—Braverade

Average Rating: 8.00 (4 of 13 episodes watched)
MAL Score: 7.81

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3. One Week Friends

My favorite show so far combines elements from some of my favorite striaght romances and rom-coms of recent years, such as Kimi ni TodokeSukitte Ii na yo, Kotoura-san, and most recently, Golden Time, with the memory element. I also love the show’s delicate pastel palette and way the edges of the show’s frames are fuzzy, reflecting the ephemeral nature of Kaori’s memories. Taneda Risa is also turning in another memorable performance after Kyoukai no Kanata. -sesameacrylic

Average Rating: 8.50 (4 of 13 episodes watched)
MAL Score: 8.02

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2. Sidonia no Kishi

Here’s the show with the widest distance between RABUJOI and MAL scores, and part of that could be the polarizing CGI animation. But the first episode packed a huge punch, pressing me to drop both Nobunaga and Captain Earth, two other mecha shows that just didn’t engage me. Sidonia’s characters may have a certain CGI sheen, but they’ve so far managed to pump a lot of warmth, humanity, and angst into them, and both they and their setting have a gritty, well-worn look. I don’t know much about the Gauna yet, but I know they scare the crap outta me and I’m glad I don’t have to fight them! I know, ironic considering my handle. -Braverade

Average Rating: 8.67 (3 of 12 episodes watched)
MAL Score: 7.27

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1. Nagi no Asukara

Fall 2013 is the season that keeps on kicking ass, with Nagi joining Golden Time and Kill la Kill as second cours that outshine everything in the present season. Granted, Nagi has a leg up in that its story and our investment in its characters are already well-established, but regardless Nagi is simply killing it right now with 9s across the board and very few flaws. MAL would seem to agree with us: it’s the highest-rated show on this list, edging out NGNL. -MagicalChurlSukui

Average Rating: 9.00 (5 of 13 second cour episodes watched)
MAL Score: 8.52

 

Black Bullet – 04

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Rentarou reveals his Vanadium arm, leg, and eye, uses them to defeat Kagetane and Kohina once and for all, then obliterates the legendary, Sin-like Stage Five Gastrea that suddenly emerges near Tokyo with a railgun capable of firing projectiles at near-light speed—the projectile in question being his own Vanadium arm, since there’s nothing else.

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As flashy and intense as all that action sounds (and looked), none of it would have been of any consequence had I not been emotionally invested. Because Black Bullet did the necessary legwork in the previous three episodes, I cared about all the stuff that went down, the people it involved, and the life-defining challenge that faces Rentarou in the aftermath.

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In previous reviews I spoke about how Rentarou and Enju are the people they are today because of each other, and neither can function without the other. That was demonstrated when the remote firing protocols for the railgun failed, putting Rentarou in the hot seat, charged with shooting a ridiculously powerful gun at a target fifty kilometers away. He wouldn’t have been able to do it had Enju not been there to calm him down and offer him her support and optimism. Without their bond, Tokyo would have been toast.

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The sudden loss of Senju Kayo really got to me, especially with the manner in which it happened, with Rentarou being forced to kill her before she turned into a Gastrea. Her story was hastily told last week, but it was enough to make an impact. All cursed children are just a few percentage points away from becoming the demons Kisara’s dad believes them to be, and she was an example of someone who had just crossed the 50% threshold.

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Turns out Kisara’s dad may have been the one to summon the Stage Five, so he could blame Kagetane and his cursed child daughter (who’s still alive but distraught), and continue and intensify anti-cursed sentiment. But Rentarou is now on dual crusades: to rise to the ranks of civil officers so he can gain the proper clearance to learn about what’s going on and what he really is, but also to save the cursed children, Enju in particular, who is far closer to turning than he lets on to her.

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Nagi no Asukara – 18

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It occurs to us at this venture that if Kaname went out with Sayu, Chisaki went out with Tsumugu, and Hikari went out with Miuna (her step-niece!), everyone would be paired off rather nicely. Manaka is the odd-girl-out; the seventh wheel keeping the 6-wheeled car from moving forward.

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Well, its actually not that simple, even if Manaka were permanently out of the picture. By the end of this episode, she’s back in the center of it, and it’s all thanks to Miuna, who is able to hear the specific sound (a sound that those who get ASMR will enjoy) that leads them into Shioshishio. But it’s not the town Hikari and Kaname remember, nor the one Miuna dreamed of all her life.

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On the one hand, I’m reminded of Tintin’s description of the moonscape at first sight: “a nightmare land, a place of death, horrifying in its desolation.” On the other hand, it’s also otherworldly beautiful, and nobody is actually dead, they’re just hibernating, as the town itself seems to be doing. In any case, it’s a fantastic sight, and watching Hikari, Kaname, and Miuna explore it feels a lot like exploring the moon…or some kind great ancient tomb.

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The look on Miuna’s face as they encounter hibernating townsfolk suggests to Hikari she’s thinking the same thing, and we get our first post-hibernation bout of Hikari Getting Pissed Off Over Nothing…only he’s not really lashing out at Miuna, but the fact Miuna’s reactions mirror his own sense of foreboding…is everything really okay here?

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His anger is the catalyst for Hikari and Kaname to go to their respective homes, essentially ditching Miuna, the person who got them therein the first place. Kinda a dick move, but it does allow Miuna to explore on her own, soaking in the place where Hikari and his friends grew up, and literally making her mark on their height chart. From the look of the place now, it feels like it’s been abandoned for centuries.

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Still, for the entire duration Miuna was alone, I felt tense, an apprehension that was amplified by the sudden appearance of Lord Uroko, awake and well despite the sad state of his shrine. She tries to convince him that she came to find Manaka, but Uroko can see through her lies. When they finally find Manaka in a graveyard of Ojoshi-samas, he also warns that for everything taken, something is given.

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With that in mind, at this point I was sure Miuna would be the price for breaking Manaka out of her slumber and taking her to the surface. But everyone seems to get out safe and sound. But once again the one-sided romances at stake on the surface start to diminish in scale beside the potential implications of what Hikari, Kaname, and Miuna may have done: stolen a sacrifice from the Sea God.

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Weekly OP: Knights of Sidonia

“Sidonia” by angela (who also did the awesome opening theme to “K”) starts out much like the opening of Last Exile; that is, with bagpipes! It’s a very stirring military march that’s more than a little somber, and every bit a piece of propaganda, because as we see in the show, the denizens of Sidonia are not merely war-hardened soldiers fighting non-stop; they also have games, festivals and love triangles.

After last week’s episode, we now know there’s not as much force behind this march as we initially thought; as when the enemy finally appears after a century, the four best pilots Sidonia can muster are undone; ironically by their own love for each other. Therefore there’s an interesting irony and artifice to this march; it’s the ideal of what the Knights of Sidonia should be, but they haven’t achieved that ideal yet.

The lyrics tell a different story; behind the strength and confidence of the music, especially when it pivots from a march to four-on-the-floor electronica, there’s a resignation to one’s fate; that death will come to every Knight, no matter how elite, but it will come in the glory of battle, protecting the only home they have left.

(Sorry about the voiceover over the music, but this is an official King Records video and thus will not suddenly disappear!)

 

 

Nagi no Asukara – 17

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Kaname returns (also naked like the Terminator), and through him we get a fresh look of what has changed and what hasn’t since he went into hibernation. His situation’s a little different from Hikari’s, in that his true love isn’t still somewhere under the sea; instead, his true love is now five years his senior and living with Tsumugu, the two acting like an domestic couple on the same wavelength, what with their well-practiced kitchen maneuvers.

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But like Hikari, he both pines and is pined for: Sayu enters the vortex of one-sided loves. Honestly, I’d forgotten she’d taken a liking to him, and remembered there was a surface girl who also liked him, but there’s no sign of her still being in town. But Kaname made his feelings plain for Chisaki, and lets her know that he—and those feelings—haven’t changed. The ball is in Chisaki’s court, though she has two other balls to juggle.

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Kaname’s return also makes things tricky for Miuna in her quest for Hikari’s heart. That Kaname returned has increased the chances that everyone else will wake up soon; Hikari’s beloved Manaka included. Tsumugu’s research is also adding fuel to that fire. With Manaka increasingly on Hikari’s mind, Miuna’s chances are as slender as ever.

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But when she overhears Hikari and Kaname having a chat by the pool their schoolmates maintained in their absesnse, she’s reminded she’s not alone in liking someone who likes someone else. Just as Kaname’s flame for Chisaki continues, so does Hikari’s for Manakas. Initially this deflates Miuna, but I think it inspires her to stay true to her feelings.

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Sayu is similarly deflated. After Kaname left, she vowed to remain alone forever, but when he returns and doesn’t immediately remember her name, she sinks into despair, saying the proper thing to do is to give up on her childhood crush, and either wait to fall for someone else, or settle for someone just to avoid lonliness. Horrified by Sayu’s words, Miuna shouts it out for anyone to hear:

“I don’t care if I’m sick. I don’t care if it’s a manga. Even if it’s gross or pathetic, I’m not changing!”

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When Sayu crosses paths with Kaname again, and he calls her by name and treats her affectionately, Sayu admits to herself that she’s “sick” too, and doesn’t want to change either. The ones they love may still be far away, but they won’t stop trying to get closer. To that end, Miuna makes use of her newly-formed ena to lead Hikari to Shioshishio, his home she’s never seen, even if they end up finding Manaka.

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One Week Friends – 04

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With Kaori heavily relying on a Chekhov’s gun of a diary to remember Yuuki each week, it was only a matter of time before it went off, i.e. got lost. Losing important things is as much a part of life as having friends, and when you rely on one for the other, you’re living dangerously.

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Kaori loses the diary after her first fight with Yuuki, which is entirely his fault. He’s pissed that Kaori’s friendship with Shogo is publically recognized by the class before his. He doesn’t like how Shogo seems to be talking to her behind his back. And he really doesn’t like it when Kaori talks at length about how great Shogo is. Shogo+Shogo+Shogo=a fight, fueled by Yuuki’ selfishness.

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His punishment is swift, due to Kaori not only losing the diary but also the sign on the wall reminding her Hase is her friend. The next week, she doesn’t remember him, and acts just as cold as when they first met. But Shogo assures Yuuki what Yuuki already knows: she didn’t throw the diary out intentionally, over one little spat. Yuuki’s initial appeal to Kaori doesn’t go well, so he skips school to look for the diary.

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During this time, Kaori gets the feeling she’s forgetting something) really important to her. Urged on by Shogo, she seems to remember enough to end up at the riverbank where she lost the diary, where she finds Yuuki covered in mud and hand cuts, and finally finds it with her there. By then, she already knew what the important thing was that she forgot: Hase-kun.

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I really liked this episode, which felt less like forced drama and more an unfolding of what was a very likely scenario—losing the diary—combined with that time-honored friendship milestone of the First Fight. The ending in particular was very touching. I will say it’s probably in Kaori’s best interest to keep a back-up diary, or possibly a private blog. And it would seem Yuuki can rest easy: if Kaori liked Shogo or even considered him a close friend, she’d have forgotten him…right?

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Gokukoku no Brynhildr – 04

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Brynhildr continues to suffer from a highly erratic tone that shifts jarringly from one scene to the next, to the point where it even seems to be confusing the characters. To whit: Ryouta stabs Saori in the heart like it’s the most natural thing in the world for an ordinary high school student to do. After Saori hangs up and is ejected, turning into a mass of organic goop, revealing a horrifying-looking parasite, only then does Ryouta react viscerally, stomping it out like a bug.

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Ryouta has gotten mixed up in some extremely awful, bloody, amoral, supernatural shit…but aside from that one little yelp, he doesn’t seem the least bit traumatized by what he’s seen and done. The episode’s attempts to lighten the mood with some fanservice-laced mixed onsen nonsense and domestic issues fail, because the gap between the two moods is too wide. The show yanked me from unspeakable horrors to oppai-grabs with whiplash-inducing speed.

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Mix two tones on the exact opposite moods too carelessly, and they’ll compromise each other, resulting in an impotent neutral mood, or just outright confusion. As it stands, it feels like two different shows in one, both of which would be better if the opposing tone was removed. I’m more interested in Ryouta’s resolute leap into the dark, messed-up world of the lab girls, not a half-assed high school harem. Here’s hoping new addition Takatori, an AA+ witch sent to eliminate the others, steers things more towards the former.

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Sidonia no Kishi – 03

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This episode demonstrated how simulations and tournaments are no test of a pilot’s true mettle, any more than good looks and celebrity. The Elite Four won the team competition while Akai took the individual trophy handily, but when it came time to face a real Gauna in battle, their skills and teamwork were all for naught, because Akai chose to be a good boyfriend which was the only slip-up required in such a fast-paced, tense battle to throw the entire team into chaos. When they stopped fighting and started trying to save each other, they had lost.

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This is quite a gut-punch, both to me and to everyone watching back on Sidonia, hoping for a quick and easy victory. I imagined one or two of the team members to be taken out, tops, based on the death flags they were throwing beforehand, but all four of the best pilots Sidonia had to offer, all at once, without even finishing off the Gauna? To understate matters, that’s not good. Now, as a matter of necessity, a new four-person group must be formed from the best pilots still alive.

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In most cases, the fate of Akai’s Elite Four would be taken by Kobayashi and Sidonia’s bosses as a cautionary example of how chemistry comraderie, and a sense of family are a double-edged sword; it’s what made the Four such a great team, but against the Gauna, it turned out to be a fatal weakness. Thus, one would think they’d pick four pilots who didn’t know each other or even particularly like each other. But because they’re prominent characters, the most likely candidates are Nagate, Izana, Shizuka, and Kunato.

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I’m well aware that three of those four are involved in a love triangle, which means the very same thing could befall them when the Sidonia hits the fan. But then, maybe Kunato harbors enough hate and angst to balance that out. In this week’s “Kunato Gets Pwned” segment, Akai beats him in the individual competition. He’s so pissed off afterwards that when poor Izana accidentally bumps into him he smacks her to the ground, and she takes a candy apple stick to the leg, which…ouch.

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Let’s not also forget Izuna’s jealousy towards what she sees as Shizuka (the “conventional” woman) getting along too well with Nagate. Izana bumps into Kunato because she’s distracted by that jealousy. When Nagate and Shizuka of all people come to Izana’s aid, we see what could be the next dream team together for the first time. Meanwhile, strategic genius Midorikawa Yuhata, fueled by the death of her brother, could well be the one planning their future battles. But I fear I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – 04

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Tatsuya’s actions in the Kendo Club fracas have already earned him a reputation within the school, and when he meets with Mibu Sayaka, rumors swirl about the two. But Tatsuya is far more interested in other rumors, such as those surrounding an element at Magic High being influenced by Blanche, an anti-magic terrorist organization.

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When Mibu clarifies that she wants him to join the coalition of anti-magic clubs being organized, it’s as if he’s being courted by the other side. While Tatsuya himself is a victim of the systemic discrimination that led to the the Blooms and Weeds (which not doubt mirrors a similar rift in society outside school), he remains noncommittal, but will be watching Mibu’s actions closely…as others seem to be observing him (that doctor’s visit was pretty foreboding).

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Tatsuya’s immersal into all this thick political soup started with his breaking up of the Kendo club brawl without the use of magic, or at least a type of magic generally used. This has been a pretty talky show from the start, but aside from one brief scene of a failed accosting, Tatsuya essentially walks from room to room having discussions the whole episode.

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As a result, the episode on the whole, while attempting to build up intrigue, comes off as a bit of a chore: divulging all this info is necessary for later payoffs, but nothing particularly interesting happened here. During some of these scenes Miyuki demonstrates her fierce loyalty to and affection for her brother, as well as her intense jealousy at the mere mention of him getting friendly with another female, which sets off her “Ice Mode.”

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Mekakucity Actors – 03

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After shifting, seemingly randomly, from Shintaro’s story to Momo’s, the show reveals that the events of the past two episodes preceded, then ran concurrently, with those of the first, only from fresh viewpoints. Therefore, the first three episodes comprise thee cohesive story of how the Kisaragi siblings met the Mekakushi-dan.

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I thought this was very clever, and literally and figuratively filled-in the blanks on a first episode that seemed to be a bit too intentionally abstruse at times, while the second episode felt like the first of a series of episodic character portraits. This third episode ties everything together into a satisfying whole that also does a good job formally introducing seven of the nine members in the credits.

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For their parts, the characters we saw hints of in the first episode make a far more lasting impression, and all of them own their roles well: Kido’s quiet angst; Kano’s incorrigible tricksterism; Seto’s affable calmness, and Marry’s clumsy vulnerability. They also all contribute their unique powers (all involving their eyes, which turn red when the powers are active) to the mission to save Momo’s bro.

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Between invisible and super-visible girls, a girl who can stop people with her gaze, a guy who can read minds, and a guy who can make people see illusions, there’s plenty of power to go around. It’s not surprising that once they found each other they decided to form a group dedicated to watching each other’s backs; more family than gang, with a lot of nice interpersonal dynamics.

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