Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – 10

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A good episode hides its weaknesses or turns them into strengths, but this week was middling because it laid bare its weaknesses without any real effort to mitigate them. One of those is a weakness common among school-based shows, magical or not: character bloat.

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Only two characters from one of the other eight schools even get any lines, which is strange, considering this would have been the time to introduce the competition in a relaxed setting. But that was kind a relief, as First High brought nearly every named character along. There are already too many characters fighting for time.

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I actually liked how Erika & Co. were forced by their families to take odd jobs so they could attend and observe; for one thing, it allowed Erika to get the best conversation in with Tatsuya, in which she notes how his coldness can be a comfort. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she likes the guy.

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I also like Miyuki finally saying categorically she doesn’t see her blood brother as a potential love interest—we just don’t like how she’s surrounded by sundry extraneous characters in an tacked-on onsen scene. There’s nothing wrong with slice-of-life or idle banter, but it tends to sap the urgency of an episode that should be trying to build it up.

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Miyuki did get to be a badass in contributing to stopping the errant SUV from hitting the bus, but the reactions of some of the students highlighted another weakness: most of the students outside the core group don’t give off anything resembling an air of competency, as if they need people like Tatsuya around to save their skins again and again, because they’re useless.

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Perhaps we’re being harsh, as they’re still just kids, but this is supposed to be an elite school, and I only feel that eliteness from a handful of students, many of them weeds. The Patriarch Kudou Retsu seemed to read my mind when he employed low-level magic on a large scale that only five of the hundreds of students assembled saw through.

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The bus incident and the thieves Miki encounters are both indications the very type of enemy Kudou warned about is indeed crashing what’s supposed to be a friendly interscholastic competition. As with the Blanche incident, students alone won’t be enough to thwart them; it will take those with both the ability and intent to do what is necessary.

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Mekakucity Actors – 09

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The story of Mekakucity Actors is gradually moving forward as more pieces of the central mystery come into focus and fall into place, but it’s a circuitous route forward full of switchbacks, some of which go downhill into the past before coming back up. Along with Ene, we are Kano’s guide as he leads us down one, to the time when he, Seto and Kido became family when Ayano’s parents adopted them.

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At first, this seems like a good thing: two well-off archaeologists bringing disadvantaged children into their home (another very stylish structure studded with vivid full-length stained glass windows). But then Ayaka dies in a landslide, and Ayano finds a journal of her investigations. The entries are brought to life in Ayano’s head with intricate, really gorgeous ink illustrations that have an Aubrey Beardsley thing going on.

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When science and reason failed her, Ayaka began shed those constructs, and entertained the possibility—accompanied by compelling evidence—that the monster fairy tail she often read to Ayano (and snippets of which end each episode) are, in fact, real events. The monster was persuaded by a serpent under an apple tree (a la Genesis) into creating a new world (and eating a fruit from the tree of knowledge did indeed lead to a new world for Adam and Eve).

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But while the fairy tale ends “happily ever after”, the real story predictably doesn’t. It would appear the serpent is trying to recreate Medusa in the real world by gathering children like Seto, Kano, and Kido together. Ene and Haruka were sacrifices to that end. And even more disconcerting, Ayano’s dad seems to have a Jekyll & Hyde condition, in which Hyde is the Serpent.

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So…what to make of all this? We’re certainly very intrigued in this stylish synthesis of folk stories, mythology, and the modern scenario of uniquely-dressed kids with superpowers. Like the Monogatari Series, director Shinbo explores personalities who t and weaves soaring, timeless tales into the contemporary present with lots of panache. Mekakucity has yet to truly wow the way the best moments of Monogatari did, but it has three episodes left, and a strong finish can go a long way.

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P.S. Rentaro’s “first gift” to Ayano is a Coelocanth, a “living fossil” of a fish thought to be extinct but turned out not to be….kind of like Ayano, right?

Akuma no Riddle – 10

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With Nio apparently content with hanging back and observing (for now), Hanabusa Sumireko is the only assassin still around to threaten Haru, and threaten her she does: with sweet smiles, impeccable etiquette, a gorgeous dress, and an invitation to a very special tea party on the school’s 99th floor. Behind every smile and perfectly-formed sentence lurks an immensity of pridefulness and malice.

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Sumireko’s badassness has never really been in question, but nor has it really been explored thus far. She has demonstrated the colossal wealth of the Hanabusa conglomerate to which she belongs, but this is the first time we see her bear her fangs in earnest, and it’s quite terrifying. The dread builds slowly but steadily as she lures Haru and Tokaku into her web of death and destruction.

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Sumireko’s strength is previewed when Takehi Otoya of all people escapes from prison and sneaks back into school. But not only does Sumi block her best scissor shot with her bare hand, she crushes her scissors into crumpled bits with that same hand. This episode went on to deliver the most complex, intense, protracted, and best battles of the show, and it was everything I could have hoped for.

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The episode was full of misdirection and feints, starting with the possibility Haru could be able to negotiate some form of rapprochement with Sumi; no dice. All Sumireko lives for is to defeat Haru—the “queen bee” of an older clan—and proving her superiority as the one and only queen. Also, Takehi looks like she could serve as a wild card, but she accomplishes nothing and is later dragged away by Nio for committing a “no-no”…gulp.

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The last feint is the first time we see the whole gang assembled at the party; the cameras far back enough that it looks like the real deal, and then Gahh, creepy killbots, all of which turn on Tokaku when Sumireko dispenses with the pleasantries and gets down to business, tearing off her dress to reveal a skintight battle suit. Tokaku hangs around as long as she can, but her guns, knives, and flesh-and-blood limbs are no match against Sumireko, who sheds her suit to reveal a skimpier Kill la Kill-style outfit that reveals she’s bionic. You gotta hand it to her, she has a flair for the theatrical.

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It only takes a few fleeting flashes into Sumireko’s past to know what makes her tick: like Haru, she’s been targeted and scarred by enemies her entire life. The difference is, she’s never had a “worker bee” like Tokaku buzzing around protecting her. She’s borne the brunt, and had entire pieces of herself hacked off and replaced with stronger metal to help her endure even more (whether she wanted that or not, now she believes it. She has to). Her implacability is on full display as she delivers a merciless, bruising beatdown upon poor Tokaku.

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When Tokaku is out for the count, Haru proves yet again she’s no damsel in distress, staging an elaborate counterattack that consists of blowing out the door with a bazooka, luring Sumireko down an elevator shaft, and tossing many grenades down to her. That doesn’t kill her, and the chase resumes to the skyscraper’s rooftop, where Haru makes use of Sumireko’s own extended cables to sends her plummeting to the ground screaming—an unignified death for the self-styled “supremely powerful” royal.

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What’s best about the fight is that it felt really substantial, but Haru’s victory didn’t feel hollow, nor did Sumireko look particularly foolish or tactically unsound; Haru simply got the better of her, mostly by using her head, and exploiting the fact Sumireko was a bit too full of herself and underestimated her prey. And I loved the look on Tokaku’s face when she learns that even after everything she’s done for her, Haru still isn’t ready to tell her who she really is. One thing she isn’t: weak.

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P.S. It’s probably a coincidence, but Sumireko bears a passing resemblance to Takakura Himari from Mawaru Penguindrum, whom Arakawa Miho also lent her delicate, dignified voice, and who also dressed in skimpy outfits.

 

 

Sidonia no Kishi – 09

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After the stress of losing Shizuka and the strain of dealing with Kunato’s power games, this week Nagate settles into a stable new routine. Named lancer and squad leader, he pulls off one victory after another, gradually repairing his reputation, while spending most of his free time hanging out and trying to communicate with the new Gauna-Shizuka he brought back.

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Her/it’s behavior could indicate that the Gauna didn’t just replicate her body, but her mind, personality, and memories as well. They just have to be teased out by the one she trusts most: Nagate. That grates not only with Izana, a horrible part of whom probably thought she’d at least get more time with Nagate with Shiuzka gone, but with Yuhata as well, who goes so far as to call Izana a man to deny her status as a rival.

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The show does a nice job subtly bulding up a kind of obsession in Nagate regarding Shizuka. It’s clear he wants the Gauna sample to be the same girl he all but fell for, and even if from a scientific standpoint she very well could be the same girl, the fact remains, she’s also a Gauna, the ever-assumed mortal enemy of Sidonia, and as such not to be trusted.

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This episode is called “Gaze”, but the chilling significance of that title isn’t clear until the scientist studying the Shizuka knock-off notices she’s always staring in the same general direction. Piercing through the hundreds of barriers and bulkheads of the ship, her gaze is always locked upon the ship’s repository of Kabizashi spears. Uh-oh.

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I guess all the progress Nagate made with the sample would seem to be for naught, as it’s merely a tool being used by Hawk Moth to pinpoint the location of humanity’s only effective weapon against the Gauna. Nagate’s affection for the girl that was, and the curiosity of the scientists who studied her, are looking very much like the unwitting architects of their own doom. Hawk Moth Comin’.

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Stray Observations:

  • The Shizuka sample’s confines are striking in their stark simplicity…Very Kubrickesque.
  • Elsewhere in the bowels of the ship, and with the help of Izana, Kobayashi is working to access the “auxilliary brain” from the clone of Ochiai.
  • Kunato, sulking in his manor with his sister and tapping into various observation feeds, doesn’t seem in a particular hurry to arrest Nagate’s latest rise.
  • Izana certainly isn’t subtle in her displeasure with other girls interacting with Nagate, and we’re sure Yuhata’s “man” remark stung. But Nagate is far too dense to ever realize her feelings unless she beats him over the head with detailed diagrams illustrating said feelings.
  • Also, Sidonia seems to be nearing a world where thousands of colonists will be able to emigrate to. That’s probably good news for those who think the Gauna will leave mankind alone if it surrenders the Kabizashis.