Barakamon – 02

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Averting mediocrity has been a recurring theme of Barakamon, and this week it applies not only to Seishuu’s efforts to re-capture the spur-of-the-moment lightning in a bottle style he awakened in a fit of passion, but also to the village chief’s son Hiroshi, who received all “3’s” in his school marks and has a tendency to half-ass things.

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First, Seishuu. Those efforts of his are running him ragged; causing him stress and insomnia, and not helped by the summer heat and the fact he can’t cook. Then, when trying to focus, his tranquil environment is invaded not just by Naru (who is less the focus this week and more of an enabler/go-between to the schoolgirls we saw sneaking out of his place last week, Miwa and Tamako.

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The girls only compound the disruption to Seishuu’s concentration Naru is usually responsible for, moving back in to their “base” and bothering him at every turn. They do inspire/drive him into rendering another bold, passionate piece in a moment of frustration. I particularly enjoyed their reaction to his creative lashing-out: they all think it’s amazing…but have no idea why.

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Seishuu’s poor living habits do eventually catch up to him. When Hiroshi is delivering him food his mom made (and guilt-tripped hi into delivering with an extremely dramatic monologue for a minor character), Seishuu literally collapses into his arms upon opening the front door. Yet despite his belief Seishuu’s a burden on his mom, Hiroshi is himself inspired by Seishuu’s intense, almost life-threatening effort.

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Hiroshi doesn’t believe he has any talents that will net him anything higher than a three, but through Seishuu he realizes that the will to work hard can be a talent in and of itself, and he pledges to work harder. Unfortunately, Seishuu takes a turn for the worse and must be admitted to hospital, which proves to be a fresh and versatile new setting for comedy.

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Even weak, in bed, and hooked up to an I.V., Naru, Miwa and Tamako don’t let up, continuing on their respective lines of interaction bordering on cruel antagonism. But intent is important, and the fact is, these people are visiting Seishuu with the best of intentions. Thanks to the hospital’s resident ghost, Seishuu grasps the truth: the girls are there because they like him and are worried about him.

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He can’t put everything he has into writing: he has to save some energy for figuring out how to endure the many forceful personalities in his life…and for sustaining that life with food, water, and sleep on occasion. Not that any of this will be easy, mind you, but at least he can count on Hiroshi’s mom continuing to feed him, saving him from cutting his hands to shreds in failed attempts at cooking!

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Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun – 02

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This week Chiyo doesn’t make any notable progress in advancing her relationship with Nozaki-kun. But that’s to be expected in just the second episode, when several quirky characters who appear in the OP still need to be introduced. This episode unveils two of them: Nozaki’s friend Mikoshiba “Mikorin” Mikoto in the first half, and Chiyo’s friend Seo Yuzuki in the second. Both feel like fun additions that expand the show’s avenues for comedy.

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In that regard, the two are getting closer in that they now know each another’s friends. What’s so funny is, neither really knows why the other is friends with them at all, as they’re both quite the handful. Mikoshiba is a playboy immensely popular with the girls, but he’s embarrassed of his own over-the-top flirtations. Despite his looks and typical behavior, he’s a super-shy dude.

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He and Chiyo don’t quite get along at first, and Chiyo mostly tolerates him as he looks down on her, then relying on her to keep busy at Nozaki’s studio. After a game-show inspired “draw-off”, it’s established he’s not good at drawing anything…except for the flowers and details that surround characters, which he’s really good at; though not enough restraint with that element makes for irritating heroes. (The draw-off also shows Chiyo’s really good at classical rendering.)

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What’s great is that Nozaki uses Mikorin’s personality as a model, not for his heroes, but for his heroines, something made plain as day to Chiyo after a cursory gaze at one of Nozaki’s pages. When he wants to come up with a new model and asks Chiyo if she knows anyone appropriate for a shojo character, Chiyo comes up with her friend Seo Yuzuki.

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Yuzuki just happens to be running for her life from teachers like some kind of delinquent, and when Chiyo tells Nozaki Yuzuki gets people angry easily, Yuzuki demonstrates it right in front of him, though not intentionally. She’s simply extremely oblivious, also ably demonstrated as she walks through a photo being taken, over wet calligraphy ink, and right between a guy confessing to a girl.

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Her antics on the basketball court—and the way in which the team (and ostensibly other sports teams) use her as an example of what not to do—are also a reliable source of laughs, especially considering she believes her problem is she’s too perfect. Still, her charm and charisma wear Nozaki down until he’s happily taking her half of the work a teacher assigned them. Sometimes she can seem like pure evil, yet she the singing voice of an angel.

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She really reminds us of a more oblivious Himeko. In fact, the whole episode had a similar air to Sket Dance’s excellent ninth episode, in which a mangaka is looking for interesting characters around school, and the Sket-dan make a highly unconvincing case for themselves until the last minute. Nozaki and Chiyo need similar convincing that there’s more Mikorin and Chiyo than their very evident negative qualities they exude at first blush.

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Sword Art Online II – 02

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This week backed up a bit from Sinon’s introductory scene last week, setting up that scene with a bit of team strategizing, and then barreling right into the action, which barely lets up thereafter. The episode is dominated by one big, elaborate, very slickly-animated, thrilling battle. Just two episodes in, and things are looking good here at SAO.

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In GGO, Sinon is the sniper in a six-man crew of player-hunters, but their latest prey appear on the horizon with a new face attached to a big, cloaked body. Sinon is uneasy about this unknown, and wants to take him out first to eliminate that unknown, but the team leader Dyne overrules her. Sinon shoots the known Minimi gun-holder first, and can’t take out the stranger after, as he dodges. Then he pulls the cloak off to reveal…a minigun.

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Turns out the big man is Behemoth, a noted bodyguard-for-hire whose smile on the battlefield only further fuels Sinon’s intense desire to kill him, proving she’s the strongest on said battlefield. When her team loses a man, Dyne wigs out, but Sinon calms him down and directs everyone to execute a pincer attack. Behemoth still won’t go down, even after Dyne lunges at him with a gutsy suicide attack that buys her time to find a new nest.

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But even high up in a huge, awesome half-collapsed skyscraper, as Sinon’s crosshairs focus on Behemoth, his focus on hers, and she loses her leg, dodging a lethal shot only barely. As she plummets to the ground, she executes a number of bullet-dodging acrobatics before finally regaining her bearings and delivering a perfectly timed headshot. Sinon 1, Behemoth 0; Game over. “Sinon” awakes in the real world, unsatisfied. She won, but lost two comrades and a leg. She’s not as strong as she wants to be. Not yet.

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The episode could have cut to credits right then and there and I’d have been perfectly happy, but instead we get Bonus SAO, as we check in on Leafa, Liz, and Silica still chillin’ in ALfeim Online, gathering loot. Kirito and Asuna are also there with Yui, happy as clams. Staring up at Aincrad, Kirito ready to discuss something with Asuna—most likely the mission Kikuoka gave him last week. The day he inevitably crosses paths with Sinon should be something to behold.

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