Rail Wars! – 04

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Rail Wars! manages to contrive a fairly logical reason to have a beach episode: Defense Four is appointed as the security detail of the pop idol Kashima Noa, who is having a concert on the beach in Izu in order to promote the National Railway, which so effortlessly, comfortably conveyed them to Izu. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a train with panoramic windows to the beach? I’m living in the wrong dang country!

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Noa comes off as most idols initially come of in these kinds of situations: aloof and largely indifferent to her latest minders (she even dozes off as Naoto waxes poetic about the train they’re on being named after a famous short story “Izu no Odoriko”, for which there’s probably been an anime or two at some point.) But when they alight from the train at Ito station and an overzealous fan goes for Queen Noa, Naoto is there to stop him, though Noa and her manager end up making a Naoto sandwich.

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It’s the latest in a series of incidents and threats, including one that promises Izu will be Noa’s final show, but this is where Noa shows her grit. She got to where she is by never stopping singing, and she’s not cancelling the concert under any circumstances. Since she’s not backing down, it’s up to Defense Four to protect her, and judging from their past exploits, it was never in any doubt that they’d succeed; only a matter of how they’d do so.

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What struck me is that even in a beach episode where the camera spends an inordinate amount of time on various parts of the girls’ bodies, the show still sweats the practical procedural details. When talking about searching a place for dangerous people or objects in earshot of the public, its better to use euphemisms so as not to induce worry in said public. Iida also insists Defense Four and in particular the lovely Aoi and Haruka don swimsuits that make them stand out in a crowd; a clear, busty message to any bad guys around that they’re out in force.

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The day of the concert arrives. After her first (very catchy) song, JNR reps join her on stage to make her an honorary security captain. The crim shows himself and brandishes a knife, but again Naoto is there to shield Noa from harm. The blade pierces his Kevlar vest (which all D4 members wisely wore while on duty) but is stopped by, of all things, the station stamp book Noa had returned to him after the sandwich incident that knocked him out. Because of that, in a way, after saving her, she saved him right back.

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Aoi, however, fears the worst when she sees the stabbing, and treats the perp to a righteous take-down, not missing a beat despite wearing a sultry one-piece and flip-flops, not her preferred garb. It’s a very cute reminder that Aoi really does have a thing for Naoto, who once again was looking at another woman most of the episode. And all of Naoto’s dedication, courage, and heroism has the effect of successfully wooing the idol, making me wonder if she’ll ever show up again.

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Glasslip – 04

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I was taken by how much sheer, serene naturalism lived this episode, one somewhat silly coincidence aside (though even nature can be full of surprises. We’re treated to shot after leisurely, painterly shot of this lazy, ordinary, yet gorgeous summer day, suffused with both idle and serious chatter, and with both orchestral music and pure silence.

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Last week’s premonition of potential doom had us in a hurry to see them come to fruition, and the flashes Kakeru and Touko have early in the episode only reinforced that sense of anticipation. But this episode wasn’t going to play it that way. For now those flashes of the future remain there; not even the ones who sensed them knowing when they’ll come.

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The episode is a patchwork of vignettes, where everyone is in their little world within the day (fittingly, Sachi is reading Saint-Exupéry, who knows a thing or two about little worlds). Touka starts out in her element, in the glass studio with her dad, but he warns her almost knowingly, to focus; glass-blowing can be hazardous work. But how can she focus when she just heard words from the future?

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It’s not Sachi but Yana at the hospital, being treated for an ankle sprain that limits her normally excellent mobility. Yuki is there for her to literally lean on, but only in his capacity as step-brother (his piggyback fake-out is pretty epic). Later, in one of my many favorite little scenes this week, Yana grabs an ice cream out of the freezer, takes a load off, and simply enjoys.

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The Summer heat and light outside do not penetrate the cool dark room, but she’s cozy and at peace. When Touko invites her out, she’s hobbling, both physically and emotionally. The two old friends reassure one another and laugh together, but those motions are punctuated by small, slightly pained looks from Yana. It may not be Touko’s fault, but she remains an obstacle to Yana’s happiness, at least where Yuki’s concerned.

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Yuki for his part, shows no signs of getting over Touko. It’s not as if a switch went off after she rejected him that made him stop liking her. He follows her to the schoolyard where she’s back to drawing her chickens (again, in her element), where she betrays her feelings when she mistakes him for Kakeru behind her. During the palpable awkwardness that ensues, Touka assures him he’s not a stranger, something he’d just said to Yana after helping her walk.

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While walking behind her in the school, his eyes wander to various parts of Touka; her hair clip, her arm, the bottom of her flowing hair…it’s all too much for Yuki, who “can’t be in a room with her alone,” then vents his frustration at her “waiting” for Kakeru before running off, knowing full well he’s said too much. He may not be a stranger, but he’s perilously close to becoming someone who can’t be just friends with Touka anymore.

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The only somewhat problematic vignette we have this week is when the summer afternoon storm brews. Yana is stranded outside going nowhere fast with her ankle, and it’s Kakeru—not Yuki who just ran away—who happens to emerge from his own little world (alone in the woods)—and “rescues” her with his jacket and some shelter. They introduce one another, and Kakeru can’t help but analyze the symbols in her name in a complimentary fashion.

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Then that stumble happens and he catches her right as Touka rounds the corner to see it, just minutes after realizing she likes Kakeru. After an episode that felt so hands-off to that point, this feels jarringly calculated; both Yana and Kakeru bumping into each other and Touka seeing them in that position. At least the rains that came and went were beautifully depicted.

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That brings us to the best part of the episode: some sweet, demure Hiro+Sacchan action! Hiro stops by to return a book she lent him, she invites him in, and they simply hang out together in her room, reading quietly and drinking tea. It’s heaven. Like Yuki, Hiro is finding it increasingly hard to control his feelings for the girl he likes, but Hiro’s able to settle down after some initial nervousness.

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He even musters the courage asks her out to the movies, and she agrees, but of course he falls asleep in the theater, likely due to sleeplessness in anticipation of the date. I was particularly invested in/moved by all their scenes together possibly because I’m aware of the cloud that still hangs over Sachi. But if there’s one thing I learned from Golden Time, it’s to savor the good times while they last. Carpe æstas.

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Weekly ED: Mekakucity Actors

Mekakucity Actors didn’t really meet our expectations—it just never came together—but it had, quite simply, one of the most beautiful ending sequences of the year. Even in a show based upon and heavily shaped by music, the ending theme “Days” stands out in the crowd, beautifully sung by Lia, who also sang the theme to Angel Beats!, another of our favorites.

“Days” is full of bittersweet contemplation and longing, well-matched with serene black-and-white visuals of Hiyori sitting asleep on a fast-moving but silent train. As the city—and time—blows by, the other characters populate around her as small colored forms dance slowly across the screen. By the end, her neutral expression has morphed into a soft smile before she quietly vanishes.

Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (AKA Double Zeta)

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Week 8 of our Hot Summer Flashbacks Series brings us to Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, a 47-episode TV series launched in 1986. Double Zeta, as it is affectionately known by no one because no one could possibly be affectionate about this show, is set in UC 0088 and is a direct sequel to Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam.

I’m at least 60 hours into my Gundam binge and there isn’t much to say: MSGZZ has the lowest production values of any Gundam I’ve reviewed so far (parts of the animation are so choppy you can’t tell what is going on at all) and it continues MSZG’s tradition of over-designed (yet overly similar) character design, atrocious 80’s dialogue, and, worst of all, the entire cast is made up of teenagers.

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In so far as the Universal Century is concerned, not much happens in MSGZZ. No characters from it are referenced in future Gundams and the only event that matters (Khann’s death) is presented completely differently in Gundam Unicorn, which I still don’t understand…

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Is MSGZZ worth watching then? Yes!…If you want to watch eye-bleedingly terrible everything?

The animation is choppy; budget. The story is mostly told for laughs, but isn’t funny. The cast is made up mostly of random teenagers who are maniacal kleptomaniacs. The first villain is a dandy with no real interest or ability to fight. MSGZZ is just a mess and impossible to get into.

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If you are looking for anything good to say about Double Zeta, you can at least say it gets a little better in it’s last few episodes. Characters come together and action, what little there is, keeps going… but OUCH! This show takes too long to get there with too many silly hammy moments.

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Majimoji Rurumo – 03

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In Shibaki Kouta’s quest to reach ever higher stages of manhood, it’s been two rungs up the ladder and one rung down. A girl lives with him, but there’s nothing he can do about it because his mom thinks she’s his sister, and stands ready to gut him at the first sign of perversion.

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This week the trend continues when a girl finally joins the Occult Research Club, but things don’t turn out the way Kouta hoped. The girl in question, Kujirai Tanako, may be the best-looking first-year, but she’s a couple eps short of a cour, in anime reviewer’s parlance.

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In fact, this episode also came up a bit short in the compelling department, owing to the preponderance of side characters like Tanako—a tiresome fraud of a magician—and Kouta’s club pals, none of whom make much of an impression. I was also way ahead of Kouta in realizing Tanako was interested in the glasses guy, not him—though ironically the glasses guy seems more into Rurumo.

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The progressing Rurumo-Kouta dynamic this episode from mediocrity. It wasn’t so much Rurumo’s klutz clinic in her cafeteria job, tripping on nothing and breaking everything, but the fact that Kouta continues to grow as a human being now that there’s someone in his life he wants to support.

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Heck, Kouta was focused on a completely different girl most of this episode, but after that bubble inevitably burst, he confronted Rurumo about why she’s trying so hard. Her answer’s simple enough: she has to, as she’s always had to. She’s worried Kouta’s unswerving kindness will make her complacent, and so insists on “restricting herself.”

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Yamagishi Saki from One Week Friends was fully aware of her limitations and of the need for someone to lean and depend on. Presently Rurumo seems to be a person of similar limitations, only she’s fearful of depending on someone else. I’m not saying Kouta is the Ideal Man, but he’s the first person to be this kind to her—and she’s the first person he’s been this kind to.

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Both are dealing with a completely new kind of interaction; it’s natural to be weary or uncertain. But it’s already apparent that, despite his occasional flights of puerility, Kouta’s slowly becoming a better person with Rurumo in his life. No reason that door can’t swing both ways, as long as Rurumo doesn’t bar it.

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