Akame ga Kill! – 09

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With no immediate missions, it’s a time of rest, healing (both physical and emotional), training, and rebuilding. Najenda heads off alone to try to recruit new members, as Night Raid is down to just six, including her. Tatsumi defeated the Three, but he must become much stronger to wear Incursio properly. He’s moved by Leone relaying Bulat’s belief he would someday surpass even him. But that’s a process.

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Meanwhile, Esdeath has finished assembling her new team of Imperial Arm-using special police force, but interestingly, we’re introduced to them one from the perspective of perhaps the most normal of them, Wave. Sort of a combination of Tatsumi and Bulat, his normal reactions to his quirky colleagues add a touch of levity and humanity to the proceedings. Esdeath also stages an exciting welcome by attacking them.

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The other members: Run, Bols, Kurome, and Doctor Stylish, are new or mostly new faces, but crazy ol’ Seryu, who healed from seemingly mortal injuries, is a nice addition. As Esdeath grows closer to Night Raid as an enemy (her “Jaegers” now outnumber Night Raid, and seem just as capable), Tatsumi gets more curious about her, so Leone and Lubbock clue her in.

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Turns out Najenda marched beside Esdeath as a fellow general in the Imperial Army, but part of why she deserted was that she simply couldn’t stomach being around Esdeath and her sadistic henchmen anymore, as they conquered towns but kept their captives alive and suffering as long as possible. Furthermore, Esdeath is being this brutal because she wants more and more rebellions to crop up, so she can keep warring indefinitely. That is the true danger of Esdeath.

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When the opportunity to get a better look at her comes up Tatsumi takes it, and after the Three, he realizes just how much stronger he’s gotten since joining Night Raid when he easily defeats the last foe standing in a fighting tournament sponsored by Esdeath. But assembling the Jaegers and prolonging the war aren’t her only goals, as she’s reached that certain age.

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That’s right: Esdeath is still looking for love, and that quirk is what sets her apart from most silver-haired ice villainesses we’ve come across on our travels. Despite the fact her falling for Tatsumi is telegraphed from a mile away, its execution is still plenty entertaining, as the initially bored Esdeath grows more and more interested in Tatsumi’s fight as he displays the five very particular qualities she demanded of a mate, including an innocent smile that seals the deal.

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Of course, Esdeath isn’t interested in dating an equal, so after meeting and congratulating Tatsumi in the arena, she offers her “gift” to him: a collar and chain, because who wouldn’t be honored to be dragged along, nay, knocked out and fireman lifted away by the lovely General Esdeath? I’ll tell ya who…TATSUMI.

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But I can guarantee you of two things: he’ll survive this, and he won’t waste the opportunity that presented itself. No, not the opportunity to see Esdeath naked (though that’s a noble goal), but to spy on her. Who among her countless enemies have ever gotten as close as he’s about to get? He’s the luckiest and unluckiest bastard in the whole empire…at the same time.

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Space Dandy 2 – 09

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This week’s episode, centered on an intergalactic dance contest, doesn’t come close to the greatness of last week’s mind-bending adventure, and it was never going to. Granted, I watched this episode in English, which makes the dialogue sound more forced to my ears, regardless of the language it just didn’t have as strong a story, and seemed more annoyingly self-referential than usual.

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As usual, things start out small, with QT learning about said contest, with a first prize with far too many zeroes in it to be considered legit. Dandy likes to dance, so he doesn’t need much convincing, so off they go to “Planet Grease” (groan), which seems to have fallen on hard times. The only store that looks open in the central ghost metropolis is a record store, where Dandy buys Chekhov’s LP.

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Then they find the Planet Chief, who laments that there’s been no contest for centuries,ever since the crucial “Danceinians” went AWOL, and his own ma has been in a coma since that time. The Chief gets a look at Dandy’s ass and convinces him to pretend to be a Dancinian to draw a crowd for a new contest, which they’ll fix so Dandy wins, precluding the need to pay out the prize they don’t have.

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The ruse only attracts a half-dozen strange alien dancers of all shapes, sizes, colors and styles. It also attracts “Tom Travolta” (groan), a gold-plated, afro-adorned alien with a ring-shaped ship not unlike those of the Danceinians of yore. He steals Dandy’s thunder, and Dandy decides to play Chekhov’s LP (ingeniously using QT’s wheel and Meow’s claw as a turntable). The very un-disco like orchestral music has the affect of accelerating time to a ridiculous degree, until Dandy & Co. are dancing bags of withering bones.

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The lichens (first explained early on by the narrator) then start to dance and grow themselves into giant glowing rings: turns out the Dancinians weren’t aliens at all, but a natural biological function of the planet. When their energy merges with Dandy and Tom’s dance-off basically obliterates the planet (and Dr. Gel and Bea in orbit); the episode isn’t really interested in explaining it further than it’s another example of the ever-turning wheel of birth, life, death, and rebirth. But hey, Dandy at least managed to wake an old lady up and bring a smile to her face; in that regard, revering to amoebae isn’t that big of a deal.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 09

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With the human crew out of constant immediate danger for two episodes now, A/Z has had more chances to demonstrate its sense of humor. For all the horrors it’s presented, the show can be pretty funy, and its outlook has remained optimistic. One look no further than all the little side moments that have peppered more tense situations.

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Now those moments have more room to breathe, whether it’s Yuki’s alleged ability to interpret Inaho’s mood from his stonelike face, to her teasing of Inko and Rayet, to Nina managing to snatch up Asseylum’s princess gown for reasons both practical and selfish. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the continuation of the wry banter between Magbaredge and Mizusaki; a nice blend of bitchy and chummy.

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All this joking around early in definitely lightens the mood, but also softens us up for the blows that come later, as the episode suddenly descends into darkness. The seeds are planted when Rayet is in the simulator, and Yuki dials up the purple kataphrakt that killed Rayet’s dad right in front of her. The experience shakes poor Rayet to the core, and continues to be baffled by Asseylum’s calm, collected outer facade.

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What Yuki did was an accident, but Yagarai gets the idea to use the simulator to recreate Marito’s own ordeal. Again, the comedy peeks through when Marito initially dismisses the simulation as “blocky” crap. His mood changes on a dime when he sees a blocky version of the kataphrakt he and Humeray encountered fifteen years ago, and we dive along with him right into that memory in its entirety.

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Long story short, they were outmatched, tanks are cramped and suck, and there was nothing he could have done for Humeray other than what he did, which is shoot him so he doesn’t have to endure being burnt alive. It was an impossible situation, and he shouldn’t blame or torture himself for what happened. We’ll see how many more times he lets Yaganai make him relive it.

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But hold on, that flashback isn’t even the darkest, most fucked up thing to go down in this episode. Asseylum doesn’t mean it, but her very presence is driving Rayet crazy. While she and Eddelrittuo come in the shower prattling about how awesome she is, it’s the last straw. While Eddy is away for a moment, Rayet, seemingly in some kind of trance, slowly walks into Asseylum’s stall and strangles her with her necklace.

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Then the Deucalion shuts down and crashes, since Asseylum was its source of power…a fact we had forgotten right up until that point! I’m not yet buying that she’s dead—just unconscious—but it’s still serious business that Rayet’s passive disdain has turned active and unhinged. It’s also ironic that after all the Vers traitors’ attempts to off Asseylum in the most public and flashy way possible, it’s a human that ends up “getting to her” in the shower of a floating battleship.

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Finally, Slaine is now the guest of Count Saazbaum after the latter killed Cruhteo. Saaz comes right out and admits he is the traitor who plotted Asseylum’s assassination, but it’s not what we initially thought: Saazbaum isn’t just a selfish rich asshole, he’s a selfish rich asshole who felt used by the royalty fifteen years ago, whipping up wars to distract the masses back home, which led to the death of his beloved betrothed. He’s committed to taking out the royal family—Asseylum included—and no amount of surprisingly sharp butter knives will stop him.

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Sword Art Online II – 09

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There are only a few cases in entertainment where watching people watching something within the show is tolerable. MST3k is certainly one of them. SAOII is not. There’s something a bit silly about Asuna, Yui, Rika, Suguha, Keiko, and…er…what’s-his-name watching the BoB from within ALO. Why lie in bed alone when you could get together in the real world and watch in person?

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In any case, these scenes were part of a larger over-arching problem with this episode: it lagged. I was a little more tolerant of the pace when things were still building up, and I realize this arc will probably be over in three episode’s time, but the stalling was a bit too over-apparent here, and there wasn’t really anything we haven’t seen before (Kirito’s bullet-dodging is kind of one-note, for example). At this late stage, I was left wanting.

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Worse still, despite how little happened in this episode, it has the audacity to end on a cliffhanger, with Sinon being paralyzed by Death Gun (who has more super powers than a State Farm agent) and is about to be shot (and killed for real) when the ep cuts to credits. This means Sinon is either dead (doubtful) or has become yet another damsel in distress for Kirito to swoop in and save.

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There are other possibilities (another player could save her), but it’s frustrating how much being around Kirito has sapped her of her agency. He’s pawing her constantly and calling all the shots. The fact that Death Gun’s Death Gun (which is the same kind she used to kill as a child) turns her into a basketcase doesn’t help matters.

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Tokyo Ghoul – 09

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After everything that went down last week with Mado, Touka, Hinami, Amon and Ken, you’d expect some kind of respite to follow, and to a degree, that’s true of this week. No one is fighting for their lives, and instead of lots of action and drama, we get backstory and new characters. It almost feels like a new season, with much that is familiar, but details great and small that show that life has gone on in the month-and-a-half since those brutal battles.

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The episode starts, strangely enough, from Amon’s perspective as he first joins the Doves Home Office and is paired up with Mado, who has a reputation for being a kook. Mado teaches him vigilance, in that he suspects an adorable old lady to be behind a string of predatory Ghoul attacks. Amon can’t possibly believe that until he almost becomes a victim, but Mado saves his life, after ostensibly using him as bait.

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Amon seemed more bemused than moved by Ken’s mercy, and he clearly hasn’t stopped idolizing Mado, who he considers to be a hero and “his pride.” I hope Amon’s aggression towards Ghouls won’t grow as twisted as his mentor’s had, but Mado is probably the way he is because he lost everyone he loved and cared about; if the same thing happens to Amon, well, the cycle will continue.

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Meanwhile, Hinami has moved in with Touka and has nursed a pet cockatiel back to health. The bird has really lifted Hinami’s spirits, but despite the fact Touka fought to save Hinami, she still seems to regret having to kill Mado. He was a wretch, but as the ring indicated, even he had a family. That and the bird make her think of her own childhood, when she and her timid little brother Ayato also helped a bird, while living with their dad.

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It’s such a lovely family scene, and it also happens to be the first time we see Ayato. When we see him in the 11th ward licking blood off his arm and calling his sister a “peace-loving wimp.” It’s likely whatever went down between digging for worms as kids and the present, it made both siblings do things they didn’t want to do, but eventually came to enjoy. Touka is through with that part of her life, but her bro clearly isn’t. I imagine he wants Rize back in the fight.

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Other changes in our quasi-season premiere: Amon gets reassigned to a special task force in the increasingly unstable 11th Ward, and two new Doves take over in his old 20th Ward post. A very weird dude with pale skin and red stiches pickpockets Ken, who is probably his prey, a white-haired girl visits Mado’s grave after Mado, and Hide pretty clearly knows what Ken is, but doesn’t seem to have decided what to do about it yet. Lots of table-setting going on. I can only hope the show remembers to stagger the bookings, lest the kitchen get overloadedand chaos reign.

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Rail Wars! – 09

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Halfway into last week D4 wrestled their Little Draisine That Could to life and started their harrowing journey across the Usui Pass on a retired line. That draisine keeps rolling throughout most of this episode as they battle tree roots, a punishing ride from the ABT that keeps them planted to the rails, and gravity and brake fade when it fails.

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The draisine is therefore the entire world for D4 for an extended period of time. It’s a world that depends on their constant alertness, smooth cooperation, and quick thinking when disaster threatens to strike, which it does, again and again. Had the team simply sat in their seats for the ride, they’d have derailed a half-dozen times over last week alone, before they got to the old tunnels.

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Due to the close quarters and the constant demands of the draisine, it’s also an intimate and physical world, with bodies flying all over the place, hanging (or almost falling) out; pushing and pulling and yanking and pedaling and sweating…“Almost sexual, isn’t it Smithers?” Unsurprisingly, Naoto and Aoi come together the most, but what’s clever is that all their contact is incidental, and crucial for that task at hand.

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Everyone gets pretty trashed, including the Draisine, which leaves a trail of shed parts in its wake. Shou hurts his foot pushing off the tunnel wall to right the train, but still pedals with all his might, and even jumps out the back and slides along the rails on his rubber soles, trying to slow the draisine. Ultimately, the others have to bail out, with Naoto cushioning both Haruka and the organ box.

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Ah yes, the box. While Haruka’s role in the mission is largely non-physical (or at least less taxing than those of the others), she’s also responsible for taking care of that organ box. If it’s damaged or falls off the train, it’s Mission Failed. That, and her quickly-acquired mechanical know-how comes in handy again this week, and on the last curve, all four have to lean out, including her.

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The draisine was a micro-world for a while, but it was also a crucible: one in which D4 became stronger and closer. Naoto thanks his team and tells them even if he wants to be a driver, right now he’s public safety, and there’s no where he’d rather be now. Once the mission is complete, they have another go at the simulator and pass, and the group finally gets to relax and have fun—or rather less death-defying fun—together.

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End-of-Month Rundown – August 2014

0814_chart_thumbFirst of all, thanks again to our readers for another phenomenal month. It’s nice to know someone out there is reading!

It’s been a steady but also active month, as the good shows stayed good, a few more shows were dropped (for different reasons), one show switched authors, and the site literally went dark (we’re white on black, or rather light grey on very dark grey, now).

Like last month, we’ve got a big colorful graph to show you how our selection of summer shows has panned out two-thirds into the season. See the full-size version for a closer look…and stay tuned in the next few days for a slightly belated Fall 2014 Preview.

 


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So…Zankyou no Terror…that unassailable whiff of prestige we mentioned last month? Still there, but a bit less potent, thanks to the introduction of a pretty lame villain in Five. We still don’t know exactly what Nine did to her to deserve such unrelenting rage (he left her behind during the escape, I guess?), which makes her motivations muddled in addition to being over-the-top. One could argue every other main character in the show has had as rough and messed-up a life as she has, yet she’s the only one actively trying to murder lots of people. Regardless of the Five Problem, ZnT remains our top show this season; a testament to how much other good stuff is going on around Five.

Calling Aldnoah.Zero a Gundam clone is being a bit unfair. While there’s no disputing the influence of the mega-franchise (and I’ll be checking out Reconguista in G come October), A/Z is delivering its own brand of hero in Inaho, and we’ve fully embraced his bordering-on-bland stoicism. Crazy, messed-up stuff happens all around him, but nothing fazes the guy, nor makes him curl into a ball sobbing. His friend Inko keeps a similarly even keel, but injects more humor and spunk into her performance. It’s a small role by Komatsu Mikako, but a good one.

Sword Art Online II’s ducks are in a row now, and we’ve proceeded with the Ballet of Bullets that is the centerpiece of this first cour. But as exciting the action of the BoB is, it wisely takes a backseat to the growing but still somewhat arms-length bond between Kirito and Sinon, two souls tortured by pasts in which they ended some lives to save others. As Nurse Aki, in an awesome supporting role, says to Kirito, if he’s in this much pain, then he’s not the monster he thinks he is, had the right to make the decisions he made, and to make them again should the time come. Death Gun must be stopped. Here’s hoping he lets Sinon help him. I also wouldn’t mind these two meeting in the real world.

Even though I pride myself on carefully selecting anime of only the finest quality and watchability here at RABUJOI, sometimes something rotten gets by Quality Control. That’s a charitable description of the sixth episode of Rail Wars!. The show then decided it wanted to establish and augment the harem around the protagonist, before quickly breaking up that nonsense and geting back to its ostensible premise of traincraft. She’s a harsh mistress, but her ability to stay on the tracks, and contrasting love interests like Aoi and Mari, continue to endear it to me.


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Barakamon the city-boy artist has really grown and become a member of the community, and the show has demonstrated that in a variety of ways, from bringing a fresh batch of city slickers to the island, to the fact that Naru’s near-constant presence in his home has become more of a comfort than a nuisance.

There’s still one member of Hanayamata who has yet to officially join the yosakoi club, and one member – Yaya, ended up on the verge of not only quitting the club, but tossing aside the others’ friendship. They try to get her back, fail, then try again from a different angle, and get her back into the fold. I rather enjoy when conflicts like this crop up in shows with otherwise lowish stakes, because they’re true to real life: sometimes you’re just not on the same wavelength.

The last five weeks of Space Dandy 2 have been a roller coaster, going from fine to great to good to phenomenal. The standard has been set with it’s transcendant, art-filmesque eighth episode, leaving me hungry for hopeful that we’ll get one more episode approaching its like (albeit with a completely different premise and setting) in the final four weeks.

Ao Haru Ride isn’t just about the “new” Futaba and “new” Ken growing closer together, though they seem to be progressing nicely enough. It’s also about how everyone (except, perhaps, Aya) in the new circle of friends is experiencing true, honest friendship for the first time. The Kou triangle would rend weaker friendships apart, but Futaba and Yuuri reach detente through honesty and courage, and they in turn inspire Shuuko to open up as well. Kou, unfortunately, seems to be dithering.

While early on Glasslip’s supernatural elements were overshadowed by the more conventional teen drama, in the last few episodes things have gotten very trippy and unnerving indeed. Now they’re a legitimate obstacle to Touka and Kakeru’s relationship, and they know they can’t keep it their little secret. Glasslip is trying to do a lot in a little bit of time, so sometimes episodes feel overstuffed, but that’s better than being too sparse. Also, all of the characters are becoming interesting as their narratives grow richer and more complex. Sacchan remains the show’s quiet star.


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Akame ga Kill!, which I’ve been likening to a darker, more morally complex Fairy Tail, keeps impressing me in spite of the fact there’s barely an original bone in its body. It’s gotten gutsier, too, killing off two Night Raid members just three quarters in to its first cour…and probably isn’t done. Foes never seem to last long, but more powerful, sadistic ones promptly crop up to take their place, to test Tatsumi, who is now in possession of his own Imperial Arm.

Majimoji Rurumo continues to be the Anti-WCW, wisely focusing on character rather than silly plot. While a few new faces, they don’t get in the way of the core couple. Rurumo continues to wreste with her feelings for Kouta, but meanwhile Kouta isn’t standing still, continuing to improve as a person out of a genuine desire to help and protect both Rurumo and, in one of the saddest episodes of the season, a litter of kittens.

With four episodes in the bag, Sailor Moon Crystal is now where the rest of the summer was this time last month. In those four episodes we’ve met Moon, Mercury, Mars, and the kings who serve Beryl. Looking forward to Jupiter and Venus and seeing the whole troupe kick some demon ass.

Tokyo Ghoul remains a dark and gory show, but not gratuitously so, and it’s been able to successfully leverage its social message by showing us the neither humans or ghouls share responsibility for the mess the world is in. Ken also seems to be gradually grown a pair as he realizes how important he could be; always encouraging.

Super-cool OPs and EDs should never determine whether one watches a show, and even though the mystery and action seemed to be starting to pick up, I was just never ever that impressed with DRAMAtical Murder. The characters act dumb, the story’s a slog, and the animation ranged between ho-hum and fugly.


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Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun landed in my lap at the end of the month but absolutely dominated everything else I was currently watching. It’s clever, quirky, well drawn and funny. Oh, and it has some charming teen romance drama under the hood too. GSN-k’s only challenge will be to actually go somewhere with the plot threads (at least the central thread between Chiyo and Nozaki) without losing it’s grip on the comedy. I’m confident it can do it, but will it?

Sabagebu! continues to surprise me. For Pete’s sake, I almost dropped this show as “knock-off trash cashing in on Gainax’s ‘dreadful girls with airsoft melodrama'” when I previewed the pilot! Thankfully I gave it a second shot. Sabagebu! is deceptively smart, mercilessly funny, and a real treat each week. Only it’s cheap production values keep it away from top shelf for me — and the more I watch, the less I feel I can hold visual shine against the show.

Love Stage!! came and went this month but, happily, it passed on a high note. The drama between Izumi and Ryouma is now fully established and interesting. Izumi’s character is probably done moping and the rest of the season should bare a lot less angst. Still, Love Stage!! was hard to watch, not a genre I’m familiar with, and I feel it was much more sexually aggressive than a similarly scripted hetero show that would broadcast over the air. I can’t decide if it should be applauded for it’s boldness or avoided.

Oh Rokujouma no Shinryakusha!? what. the. hell? You were a harem comedy once and you were half way entertaining. Sure, procedural, but I got a chuckle. Now you’re a baddy of the week (every other week) show, with an intergalactic politics and trans-space/time mystery plot. You’re not funny at all, your harem filler is dull and unstimulating, and your hero is whatever perfect’ish dude mold you want to pour him into. You’ve out stayed your welcome. Good bye and good luck on some other reviewers docket. xoxo – Frankie

Glasslip – 09

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This week starts out with everyone, either by choice or circumstance, isolated from the one they love. Yana from Yuki; Sachi from Hiro (and Hiro from Sachi); Kakeru from Touka. For a good chunk of the episode, everyone is alone, and they don’t seem too happy about it, whatever side of the relationships they happen to be on. Last week we tripped. This week we come down.

It’s the most extreme example yet of how all the events and emotions of the summer so far have conspired to pull the circle of friends apart. The episode had a monastic, cleansing feel to it, as if this was a time for solitude and reflection. During this time, many characters devise ways of reconnecting through various barriers or filters, meeting varying degrees of success.

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Well THIS is a setback…

First up is Kakeru, who is stuck at home listening to his mom play that same damn song we’ve heard a million times. Enough already, play something else! Not that his folks are any more human when they’re trying to talk with him about his future, making sure to get in a dig about how they both knew exactly what they were going to do at his age.

Kakeru can’t hear the fragments anymore. Apparently unable to contact her in any other way, he comes by Touka’s house, and they talk between glass. What a difference a day makes…when the girl you like has a traumatic vision of you being a bit too forward for her taste. Not that it’s Kakeru’s fault that she saw that, but it clearly shook her, and she refuses to return the art room with him. She’s not ready.

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Yuki escaped for track camp not just to get back into some kind of routine, but to get away from Touka, who he liked far too much for someone who didn’t like him back, and away from the awkwardness with Yana, as well. Yana treats his unannounced absence as a challenge, and runs his route everyday, sending him rather poetic texts about the weather and other observations.

At camp, Yuki is not necessarily improving, his knees hurt, and he’s still full of doubt. But as desperate and melancholy as these texts first seemed as Yana sent them, not expecting a reply and not getting one, Yuki breaks radio silence when Yana reports clear skies, while it’s dreary and raining where he is.

Yana isn’t even sure what she’s doing or why, and yet they make Yuki happy and relaxed. The juxtapositions during their beautiful phone conversation are very apropos: Yuki may be under the clouds, but Yana is a ray of sunshine peeking through via cell phone. Yuki says he’ll be home soon; possibly tomorrow. It would seem Yana got what she wanted…but what’s next for them?

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She’s a girl with a plan.

Then, finally, there’s Sachi. I tend to save Sachi for last in my reviews…and that’s because she’s the best. Kakeru tried to connect with Touka through glass; Yana with Yuki through texts, and Sachi tries to connect with Hiro through literature. Specifically, she recommends to him a book on the shelf in his family’s cafe, and his disappointment gives way to a bemused curiosity.

Sachi asks not just Hiro, but also Touka, to join her at a Kirinkan, where they wait until after closing time for a hauntingly beautiful crescent moon under earthshine. Like Hiro, I don’t quite get it at first, but then Touka says “the moon is pretty” in a way that sounds like a confession of love, according to Soseki Natsume, the author Sachi had Hiro read.

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Inviting them to this special place of hers, at this special time, when the moon was just so, having prepared Hiro literarily…Sachi’s was certainly the most impressively complex method of re-connecting with the ones she loved—lots of moving parts—but as Hiro puts it, “as long as there’s love”, her feelings were going to come through…and they did. They end up saying the very things she wanted to say to them. This is what happens when Sachi uses her extraordinary planning skills for good instead of evil.

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Majimoji Rurumo – 08

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I’ll admit I wasn’t terribly excited for the episode when we meet a second witch. The show got along fine with just the one, after all, and aside from Chiro and Sumiko, the supporting cast is mostly innocuous ciphers. While her bug-eyed, silent cat Mimi is awesome, things get less encouraging still when Harulily offers Kouta a new contract, and her “death-free magical ticket” free sample seems to instantly revert him back into the beastly “Hentai-Shiba.”

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Kouta’s great in Butler Mode

So it wasn’t just a matter of Harulily eating up valuable time late in the show’s run, but also the fact she could swoop in and undo all the progress Kouta has made by living with Rurumo. But then Harulily drops the ploy altogether and reveals she’s an old friend (of sorts) who has always been irked by Rurumo’s unflappable stoicism in the face of her pan-incompetence. She’s not here to mess up Rurumo’s shit, she’s just checking in on her.

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The sudden deflation of Harulily as a threat nicely subverts the traditional “rival witch episode” formula, as Kujirai did a few eps back, and is another sign this show is a lot cleverer than it looks. Somehow, a magical girl duel just wouldn’t feel right on this show. And Rurumo’s personality is such that she’d never rise to taunts or insults, any more than she’d respond to Lily’s demands for her to show more emotion with blank stares and single-word answers. Lily’s better as a foil than an opponent.

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Instead of doing something silly like “battling each other with Kouta as the stakes”, Harullily spends her second following Rurumo around on part-time jobs, all of which Rurumo fails splendidly at, but keeps moving on to the next one, full of quiet optimism and a stiff upper lip. Rurumo exhibits her talent for planning deep ahead in case of multiple same-day firings (borne of her innate clumsiness), as well as her poise and resilience in the face of persistent failure.

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Every time Harulily tries to question what Rurumo is doing or how she’s doing it, Rurumo is ready with a quote from Kouta, mentioning him by name more and more, irking Lily more. She may be jealous of Rurumo’s passion for Kouta, but a part of her is happy that Rurumo is working so hard toward her goal and not letting anything get her down. Lily turned out to be a welcome lens into the hard but happy life Rurumo has settled into with Kouta.

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She’s also the bearer of a portent of doom, though she only thinks it: when Rurumo’s training is complete and she becomes a full-fledged witch again, Kouta will die. At first she curses stupid Rurumo for not knowing this very important detail, but it later occurs to her: maybe she does. Maybe Rurumo is trying to find a way to become a witch without killing Kouta. Maybe she’ll stretch out her training for years, letting Kouta live a long life.

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Or maybe not. This show killed a fluffy kitten, but offing Kouta would really be gutsy. Has Rurumo simply made her peace? His frequent remarks about reaching “ultimate levels”…could they have been foreshadowing his death? Eh…I kinda doubt things will get that serious. But the fact a fleeting guest character could descend on the show, spark that amount of thought, and then fly away back to the underworld, is gratifying in and of itself.

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Hanayamata – 08

“The variety of personality types is perfect!” —Sari-sensei

As this week’s episode crept closer to the girls’ first official public performance, they cross every T and dot every I, and a great deal of anticipation is built up. Finally, it’s happening, after so much hard work and such humble beginnings.

“Practice wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whenever you can.” —Me

Haru and Tami take Sari-sensei too seriously and get self-consicous about their thighs, leading to last minute exercise. Yaya and Hana remark that they aren’t actually fat, but Yaya also remarks that they could use a little extra stamina.

SCANDAL!

They’re inspired to exercise more after Yaya proves how valuable a member not in name only she can be, by adding her drums to Tami’s piano music and making a hip little arrangement: the OP with a synth tone replacing the vocals.

Nice assortment of reactions to the department store shindig

Yaya also proves vital in both the planing and scheduling stages, as she insists they all arrive at the station by 8:00, even though the performance isn’t until 1:00. Sure enough, the other girls are late, but she planned for that, so it’s all good.

“I’ve got your back…literally and figuratively!”

Disaster strikes when they forget the music CD, but Sari’s sister (and Tami’s friend) Machi arrives with it in hand. As soon as this fact is made official, we get a glimpse of their strained relationship, stemming from their different personalities.

Lookin’ good…

Finally, it’s showtime, and everyone is nervous (even Yaya’s legs shake), but once they get up there to before a small but lively crowd, and the music starts, for a pretty decent amount of time the four are kicking ass. And then Naru makes a wrong move, bumps Hana, and falls, dropping her Naruko.

“No…not again….”

It mirrors her bad dream last night, which was actually a memory of falling while cheerleading in elementary school. In the present, we can only watch in horror as everything all of a sudden goes horribly wrong in excruciating slow-motion. Rats…so close!

“Maybe I should join? According to the OP, I DO join, after all…”

But hey, it’s not the end of the world. This is their first show, and it wasn’t meant to be some big unrealistic breakthrough. It was valuable practice for future public performances. We fall down so we can get back up again. I hope Naru remembers that and doesn’t dwell on her failure. Their dancing also seemed to momentarily impress Machi, though it looked like watching her sister watch and cheer them on made her jealous as well.

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Music: Onimonogatari – “An Old Story”

Last week’s Space Dandy got me thinking about other phenomenal episodes of anime I’ve watched in the past few years, and I actually ended up re-watching the second episode of Onimonogatari, informally known as “The Demon’s Sililoquy” from the “Shinobu Time” arc of Monogatari Series Second Season (my original review, which didn’t really do it justice, is here). It’s as rule-breaking and polarizing as the Monogatari series itself; in a way, it’s a distillation of its essence: deep, rambling dialogue, occasional linguistic puns, gorgeous imagery…and little to no conventional action.

Visceral reactions aside, one of the practical reasons why I loved the episode so much was the music that accompanied that gorgeous imagery, so I finally did some very shallow digging and found out that the composer for the entire Monogatari Series thus far, as well as other favorites like Suzumiya Haruhi and Oreimo, is a fellow named Kosaki Sotaru. His MAL picture makes him look closer to fourteen than forty, but don’t let the babyface fool you: the dude knows what he’s doing.

Shinobu’s sprawling, epic, gorgeous, ultimately heartbreaking tale of how she came to Japan from Antarctica four centuries ago, became a god, met, made, and ultimately lost her first minion in the worst way, demanded a soundtrack to match its scope and gravitas. The kind of music you’d put to a vampire jumping from Antarctica to Japan in one leap, inadvertently forming Lake Biwa.

The piece that opens the episode is appropriately called “An Old Story,” is just what the vampire storyteller ordered. Apropos of nothing, I wonder if Kosaki-san ever listened to The Verve…

Ao Haru Ride – 08

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“Today, no matter, what, I will definitely, definitely tell Yuuri properly!” As soon as Futaba said this, we were convinced she’d lose her nerve when it came down to it, a fear reinforced when two seconds later she says “I bet I’ll still lose my nerve when it comes down to it.” The odds of her telling Yuuri drop even more when Yuuri, unaware of the hammer Futaba’s trying to bring down on her, invites Shuuko to join them for ¥100 donuts.

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Prove me wrong, I said to the anime I like to think is based on one of Nozaki-kun’s shoujo manga: show me you can move forward and resolve this shit.” And what do you know, Ao Haru Ride answered the challenge. Even with Shuuko around and Yuuri going on about Kou, Futaba still gets it out; gets it all out, in the first five minutes of the episode. That was as welcome and refreshing as a cold shower on a searing summer day (though we’ve had precious few of those round these parts.)

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And wouldn’t you know it, Yuuri takes it extremely well…at first. Her immediate reactions involve saying “You too?”; noting how she’s not surprised, as Kou’s so totally hot and all; and acknowledging she’s at a disadvantage since Futaba’s closer to him. Then she goes to the bathroom and we get the first of two instances of characters crying for multiple reasons (Futaba’s the other, later on). One could say Yuuri is crying because her friend loves the same guy as her, which means she could potentially lose of them.

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But she’s also crying because Futaba obviously went through hell getting those words out, but she did. As Futaba thinks to herself earlier, this is the crux of her growth as a person: no longer “friends in name only” with anyone, she’s allowed to say what she wants, and in this case, needs to say. She wants to be honest, even if it could create conflict. Having friends you care about opens you up to hurting and being hurt, but the rewards are immeasurable.

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Witnessing a genuine exchange between two friends who love each other has a significant effect on Shuuko, who only tagged along because Yuuri asked her too and she had nothing else to do. What’s amazing about this first act is that this is the first time Shuuko is hanging out with people after school since she started high school. Far from fearing socializing is always this intense, she realizes what she’s been missing out on.

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It’s the perfect environment for her to get something off her own chest: that she’s in love with Tanaka-sensei. Futaba’s utter shock at this confession serves as proof Yuuri never spilled the beans, which comforts Shuuko further. When Aya passes by and happens to spot Shuuko hanging out with friends—and enjoying it—it puts a spring in his step and a tune to hum. He’s happy for her, as are we.

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One of Futaba’s best expressions yet: the “yeah I’m stalking you deal with it” look!

Yikes, I’ve only covered half the episode! That’s not to say the other half isn’t interesting, because it was, but it didn’t have quite the cathartic, warm-and-fuzzy power of the first. That could be because after running into Kou by chance, who is playing with the stray black cat, then says he won’t adopt it because “caring for things brings a lot of trouble” in the most obnoxious angsty way possible, Futaba decides to spend the rest of the night stalking him!

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This is why I like to think Nozaki-kun wrote this manga. He truly understands girls’ hearts, and in shoujo, if you like a guy and stalk him, he’ll eventually like you too! I kid, I kid…sort of. But really, if he doesn’t want Futaba following him he could be more forceful about it, but he’s very wishy-washy about it, and by the end puts on the air of a protector by lecturing her on the risk of being assaulted by going out in the night alone, culminating in the closest they’ve come to a kiss.

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Perhaps its because he was genuinely worried that Futaba would do that to try to get closer to him that he was cross with her. But at least Futaba isn’t just hiding in her head and actually trying to act on her feelings. As Shuuko so eloquently puts it, it’s ultimately up to Kou to decide between Futaba and Yuuri, or to reject them both. But if he has feelings for Futaba (and let’s face it, he does), then he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with toying with her much more.

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Stray Observations:

  • Komatsu Mikako is doing great understated work as Shuuko; her laugh sounds like the first laugh she’s laughed in years.
  • Come to think of it, Uchida Maaya is also showing she can handle non-chuunibyou dialogue with the best of ’em.
  • Aw, why not? Kudos to Kaji Yuki, while we’re at it. No one does sensitive/whiny angst like Yuki. This is Hope we’re talking about, after all.
  • Steelers? C’mon, animators. Surely you can think of a better team to slap on Kou’s t-shirt.