Girl Friend BETA – 02

gf21

This episode is all about Kokomi’s anxiety about gaining weight as the day of her gymnastics competition approaches. Interestingly, all her conversations and even a question from the teacher all seem to be related to “weight” or “reaping what you sow.”

gf22

As Kokomi mills around school enduring this kind of talk, Chloe is in a not-so-heated debate with Fumio on a wide range of issues, from fried chicken to the trends of Japanese teenagers.

gf23

Kokomi ends up in the equivalent of the Dieting Club when they learn she’s interested in losing weight, and they start running and exercising furiously throughout the afternoon.

gf24

Their plan backfires when they’re presented with a large supply of hi-calorie, hi-carb melon buns (Kokomi’s favorite) as thanks for Kokomi being on the radio show, under the mistaken impression the other girls are helping her train for the competition, not lose weight. The girls cannot resist the buns and eat many of them. I would have, those buns look goood.

gf25

Kokomi goes to often-sleepy model Miyoshi Nao, who has never dieted herself but knows everything there is to know, and picks her brain, learning what she should have known all along: her weight gain was due to putting on muscle, not fat. The resulting plan involves balanced nutrition – no starving oneself. Kokomi ends up taking first at the prelims.

gf26

 

When their classmates learn that Nao was Kokomi’s secret weapon, they all reach out to her, hoping she can help them, too. Since Nao admired Kokomi’s ability to make friends with girls outside her class and grade, Kokomi’s success ended up making Nao a lot more popular, and gave her the opportunity to talk with more girls. So everybody wins!

6_ses

Grisaia no Kajitsu – 03

Picture 10

It’s difficult to explain why Grisaia is so good concisely. On the surface, this show is just a harem bit with a string of crotch shots held together by an ex-assassin’s inner monologues, as he goes about his day as a high-schooler.

It’s widescreen and it’s spatial effects raise it above other harems visually, but it relies on many of the same joke telling conventions, unending shots of panties, and the who will he eventually ‘bang’ of creepy harem fanishness.

But the, when was the last time you saw a character full on masturbate onto someone’s bed while someone watched that wasn’t hentai?

Picture 15

Perhaps that’s a weird example to justify a show as “good”,  but Grisaia is doing a solid job pushing past my expectations — past my comfort zone — and that gains it a lot of credit.

Even more, since this episode was so lighthearted and harem-genre otherwise, it’s difficult to forget that more than one student here is batshit crazy (and armed to the teeth) and that, at any minute, Grisaia’s genre could change, with camera-soaking violence.

On to the summary!

Picture 9

This week start’s off with Yuuji catching Amane picking his room’s lock and slipping in. He’s not sure what her motives are, even when he witnesses her sniffing his clothing and writhing on his bed masturbating, because it’s pretty clear that her skill level is very high and she could have staged the whole weird scene when she noticed he’d caught her.

We’re not even sure, as are seeing the show from his perspective, but it is disturbing!

Picture 38

Then Yuuji encourages Makina to jog through the pain by teaching her the “Amane Suou is a Bitch in Heat Song” and we are again catapulted past our expectation zone. It’s jarring but also funny and charming. More importantly, it disarms us with it’s silliness and makes us forget the twisted side that’s creeping below Grisaia’s surface.

More twisted than a girl who is so boy-crazy she’s going to finger herself in his bed, at least.

Picture 19

The rest of the episode also aims to distract us. We see all the girls accepting Yuuji more, from sharing meals with him, to making fanny-packs for him. It’s all very genre appropriate and smile-making but those vacant eyes can’t lie.

Or maybe they can and that’s the point: we have no idea what everyone is thinking. That’s gotta be disturbing to a master assassin who’s going to a walled school ringed with cameras.

Picture 28

Grisaia has solid comedic timing, decent animation and effects, and fanservice that is actually more aggressively sexual than normal fanservice, which gives it extra punch. If you have room in your Fall ’14 viewing schedule, you owe it to yourself to give this one a look.

Just be warned that, nipples or not, censor ‘clouds’ or not, this show is toeing the line for how adult it can get.

8_ogk

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja – 03

r3_2

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja’s third episode improves upon its opening by focusing on Ronja and giving us a little excitement and just a little life-or-death tension. I wouldn’t call it gripping or high art, but Ronja’s day in the woods is satisfying and a little unusual for child-centric programming.

However, this week’s biggest difference was on my end: I watched it with my 3-year old-son.

r3_7
My son’s only question this week? “Where’d this squirrel go?”

My son is a big Studio Ghibli fan and regularly asks for Kiki or Totoro or Spirited Away before nap time. However, he experiences those movies dubbed in English, which made my reading Ronja’s subtitles novel and a bit more like watching an animated book than a cartoon.

No surprise, he was totally transfixed. Ronja’s emotions over-wrote his emotions. For the 15 minutes she was happily running through the woods, he was happy and laughing and for when she was scared by the Gray Dwarves, he was scared too.

r3_4
Like the harpies, the gray dwarves are hella creepy!

I must say Ronja is very effective for a young audience. In this episode at least, Ronja had enough action to keep my mind from going numb too. Still, almost half of its run time featured a girl running around laughing at the wonder of the world, without plot or greater purpose than that.

So is Ronja something for an adult to watch alone? No, not really. Ronja lacks that lovely spark at the soul of Ghibli’s other films. Ronja has none of their depth of world nor scenario. it’s just a child’s tale, thankfully missing the obnoxiously educational format of most western children’s programming.

But it is a children’s story first and only.

8_ogk

Akame ga Kill! – 16

agk1601

As Night Raid and the Jaegers clash in various new combinations, AGK returns to what it does best, big, bold, bombastic yet stylish battles. There is a ton going on this week, with only Lubbock and Wave sitting out the action, and sides made even more complex by Kurome’s “collection” of corpse puppets, all formidable warriors she’d assassinated in the past, including her own childhood friend Natala.

agk1602

Thus sub-group of one-shot baddies, both humanoid and bestial, is as diverse and colorful in both appearance and skills as Night Raid and Jaegers themselves, and are the initial barrier keeping Night Raid from taking on Kurome directly. Some get more backstory and screentime than others, but the bottom line is, most of them are tough enough to hang around for most of the episode.

agk1603

Frankly, there are so many different combinations of face-offs in the simultaneous battles that it would be a major pain to list them all out, but suffice it to say the episode stays fresh because of the sheer variety of combat going on, and the numerous times a Night Raid member will shift from one target to another one that’s a better fit. They all strive to match their unique Imperial Arm power to the weakness of the opponent in a particular time and place.

agk1604

The urgency and seriousness of these battles is helped by the fact we’ve lost Night Raiders in the past, and everything from limbs to garment integrity is lost at various points in the action. But everyone gets to shine, striking and dodging, landing what they intend to be coups-de-grace, only to find their opponent slipped away for found another edge…or if one of their allies interrupts.

agk1605

One of the funnier battle “cross-overs” coming when Najenda, disgusted her former trainer and general is still moving around despite the fact she beheaded him, goes in to Overdrive and launches him into the air. The body hits the beam of the Destoghoul just as it’s blasting Susanoo’s arm off (though unlike Leones, it reappears instantly, since he’s, well, an Arm.) It’s a small but funny gesture that conveys the sense that All Of This Is Going On At Once.

agk1606

Another instance of clever use of character ability, personality and timeliness under certain conditions, Chelsea, who is hidden most of the time, uses her makeup kit to take the form of a tribal elder one of the puppets won’t attack, opening him up for a fatal needle to the brain. She took the risk to protect Tatsumi, whom she’s developed feelings for.

agk1607

But after one foe is downed, it isn’t long before another has to be dealt with. Susanoo brought the PAIN thanks to Najenda unlocking his secret “Madman” power, a life-threatening option, but the only way to quickly dispatch the Destoghoul.

agk1608

After she defeats her gun-toting opponent, Mine is ambused by a giant toad and swallowed, to burn up in its stomach acid, but as Kurome gloats, Mine blows enough holes in the thing to escape before the acid does too much. Mine then makes the very unreasonable, but very Mine demand for Tatsumi to somehow help her without looking at her.

agk1609

Yes, I liked that even in these tough battles, there’s still the occasional exchange of wry banter or joking around that we’ve come to expect of AGK, though there’s less of it than usual, and even in this it throws a curveball, as in the moments Leone lets her guard down watching Najenda fight, she loses her frikkin’ left arm to an opportunistic, ruthless Kurome. Keep your eyes on a swivel, guys!

agk1610

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how long Bols manages to stick with Akame and later Akame and Leone. He even calmly asks Akame why she became a rebel, and doesn’t argue with her right to feel the way she does…it just doesn’t change the fact his job is to incinerate her. But when his corpse puppet guard goes down, it’s two-on-one, and his Imperial Arm is severely damaged by Leone biting it, he tosses up his turbine backpack and Detonates The Entire Episode. Talk about ending things with a boom! Keep it up with this AGK. You’re in your wheelhouse.

8_mag

Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – 03

ookami31

This show has improved in each of its three episodes, which is all the time it takes for Erika to listen to Sanda’s advice and follow her feelings honestly and confess to Kyoya. This is in part accomplished by the tried-and-true and nicely-executed “nursing ill love interest to health” scenario, which reveals to both Erika and Kyoya that their exchanges in this “fake” relationship are growing alarmingly genuine.

ookami3

For one thing, Erika doesn’t come to Kyoya’s house to nurse him back to health because it’s part of her duty as his dog, or to keep up appearances with their fake relationship. She does it because she’s worried about him, and because she wants to. And while she’s not thinking about it this way at all, there’s nothing like a bad cold to reveal the true nature of an “adversary”, if you will.

ookami32

As ever, Erika is seeing sides of Kyoya he keeps tightly guarded from everyone else, which makes her feel understandably, well…special. But again, that feeling, and falling even further for Kyoya, is a by-product of her helping him, not an intended reward. That utter lack of ulterior motive is as baffling to Erika as it is vexing to Kyoya, considering their history…but to paraphrase Sanda, the heart is not the head; it don’t have to make sense.

ookami34

If this episode accomplished nothing else (which isn’t true, it accomplished a lot), it afforded us the resources to compile our most comprehensive analysis of Kyoya to date, confirming many suspicions with facts of his life. His lack of a strong mother figure speaks volumes about how he deals with women, and the loss of a beloved dog in middle school indicates a hesitancy to commit or form strong emotional bonds with anyone else, fearing more pain and anguish.

ookami35

Between his mommy/women/abandonment/commitment/self-esteem issues, Kyoya is a far more wounded and fragile individual than he lets on, and Erika has still only seen the slightest glimpses. She’s privy to the same indicating facts we do, but she’s so emotionally compromised herself at the moment, she hasn’t painted as clear a picture of him yet.  She also saw his “non-Prince Smile”, which is to say, a genuine smile bourne from real happiness. Put incredibly simply: he likes dogs, ergo he likes Erika, who is his “dog” at the moment.

ookami36

Being with Kyoya makes Erika want to stop lying and be his real girlfriend, along with wanting to take care of him when he’s sick. Being with Erika is like being with no other woman in Kyoya’s life. When Erika suddenly stops by his apartment one night to confess properly, Erika is in a very emotionally malleable state, and Kyoya…well, he’s just had a visit from a pretty lady with whom I’m sure he demanded the least emotional connection possible. And yet the timing feels right.

ookami37

I always appreciate a guy or girl with guts who confesses earlier rather than later, regardless of the consequences or the fact neither they nor I usually like the response, but that’s to be expected: an early confession that ends in rejection or ambiguity usually means the show to follow will be about clearing up the ambiguity, and if and how the initial rejection is ultimately overturned, resulting in romantic victory.

ookami38

Make no mistake: Kyoya isn’t questioning Erika’s feelings for him because he doesn’t want them, nor because he doesn’t have the same feelings for her. He’s questioning them because he doesn’t think he deserves them, and probably also fears losing her once he has her. While he’s antagonized and insulted Erika plenty, he’s doing it in hopes of keeping her at a safe distance. The one he’s really torturing is himself. We’ll see how right or wrong I am about all of this in the weeks to come. Until then, great progress was made here.

9_ses

 

P.S. The peppy ending theme, “Wolf Heart” by Oresama, is a toe-tappingly fun, well-produced, and addictive piece of pop that’s also a nice salve for the sting of that failed confession.

 

Sora no Method – 03

sora31
Loved this long-distance relay conversation between the scattered group members.

Everyone in this circle of past friends is missing a piece of the puzzle, which informs how they treat Nonoka. When they’re all brought together again for a sprawling orienteering trip, those pieces start to match and fall into place, resulting in a different kind of re-orienting: that of their immediate attitudes towards the transfer student. At the same time, Man, was this a gorgeous episode, packed camerawork that really accentuates the scale grandeur of the surroundings.

sora32

Our first perspective comes from Togawa Shione, who’d been glaring in the background till now. Komatsu Mikako is one of the best in the business when it comes to coldness and barely restrained contempt in an otherwise sweet and innocent voice, and she’s perfect as the bitter Shione, who is convinced Nonoka is trying to play her and the others for fools.

"Here's a 'promise' for ya!"
“Here’s a ‘promise’ for ya!”

So convinced is she that Nonoka is being glib and coy, it doesn’t take much interaction with her at all to make her slap her in the face. Shione is upset because seven years ago, it was Nonoka’s idea to “call for the saucer,” and yet after they called it, she split for Tokyo without a word, abandoning her friends and the responsibility for the Saucer they all shared. Shione’s missing piece? Nonoka genuinely doesn’t remember those days…be that only makes Shione feel even more devalued.

sora33

Next up is Yuzuki, who we learn is twins with her bro Souta, as he was also in the group (the guy is notably not the focus in a group of mostly girls). She hates the saucer, in part, because it’s the constant reminder of Nonoka’s betrayal. She’s just as angry at Nonoka as Shione, but is nice to Present Nonoka because of her missing piece: she didn’t know this was the same Nonoka, a position also shared by Koharu and Souta, until Nonoka gets separated from them and Shione educates them.

sora36

This is, again, the first time we see the friends talking about seven years ago, so none of them have failed to remember, but have dealt with it in different ways. There’s a interesting bit of intrigue in this scene devoid of Nonoka, who is the one who is bringing everyone back together…some without knowing it, some against their will!

sora34

Even if Yuzuki isn’t entirely convinced yet, now that she’s aware of the possibility, it’s going to change her interactions with Nonoka. That’s made even more abundant in Nonoka’s ultimately very fruitful lone journey to a decaying and abandoned Kindergarten, most likely the very one the circle of friends attended. It’s a quiet, sadly beautiful, wordless scene where Nonoka simply sits by herself and starts to hum, and is joined by Noel.

sora35

Here, in this place, her missing piece comes back to her: her friendships with the others and the wish they made seven years ago. This happens sooner than I thought it would, which is a good thing, but it’s only the beginning. The flashback shows how similar or different the friends are now, and underlines just how blindsided they all were by her moving away. But she just…couldn’t find the time or place to tell them.

sora37

Up to this point, Nonoka had the most missing pieces, not even knowing how the Saucer got up there, let alone the fact her present peers were not only already her friends in the past, but didn’t appreciate her sudden departure.

sora38

But that’s all changed now: Nonoka remembers now, and she still has what she had ever since she returned to town: Noel, who tells her she’s not just from the Saucer or of the Saucer; she IS the Saucer. Without knowing it, Nonoka got what she wanted seven years ago. So…what now?

9_mag

 

 

 

 

Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 03

Poor Miranda! She never had a chance, and more than Coco
Poor Miranda! She never had a chance, any more than Coco did

Cross Ange is a dark, gritty, brutal, sometimes just-plain-wrong mecha series done right. As First Troop battles a battleship-sized DRAGON and its twenty-odd underlings, Miranda is simply told to keep back and stay alive, an order she cannot follow. Just when you thought, “well, maybe they’ll have Miranda resent Ange for Coco’s death later”, she dies too, just as she’s told not to!

ange302

But just so you know, the show isn’t content just with killing off rookie redshirts, as the highly capable, experienced bad-ass Captain Zola also meets her end in the fiasco of a battle where Ange first tries to desert, then freaks out and flies around, then slams into Zola’s Paramail, preventing her from landing the killing blow on the DRAGON. For her trouble, Ange gets to await rescue as the blood from Zola’s empty eye socket drips all over her cockpit. Frankly, I’m surprised more pilots didn’t lose their lives out there: those DRAGONS are exceedingly efficient at tearing people to pieces.

Everyone hates you. You are the worst.
Everyone hates you. You are the worst.

Even if it’s not all due not entirely to Ange, her selfish actions contributed greatly. She’s also gone and made even greater enemies of Zola’s three lovers: Hilda, Roselie and Chris. And Jill even sent her official petitions to several nations: all were rejected, as no one has ever heard of the Misurugi Empire or a Princess Angelise. She hasn’t just been plucked from her world: that world doesn’t even exist anymore.

ange304
Nice touch that Norma get their full names back when they die

Once healed up and out of her Gaultier Leeloo bandages, Jill has her lug the tombstones of the dead to their final resting places – the duty of the person responsible for their deaths. It’s here she learns her cushy mana-filled world is built atop the bones of the Norma, all fighting to protect a civilization that spits on them. When she learns fallen Norma get their names back, she starts to wish for death, to escape the hell and return to a place of peace, even if it is the afterlife – because she’ll at least once again be Angelise Ikaruga Misurugi.

ange305
Villkiss – Ange’s (old) new ride

With her first paramail trashed, Jill bestows Vilkiss on Ange – while awesome-looking, it’s hard to control and has seen better days; the perfect ride for someone with a death wish. But the Vilk is no lemon; and in giving it to Ange Jill seems to be challenging the voracity of her wish.

Salia is the new First Troop Captain…for better or worse, as she’s extremely rigid and by-the-book leader, probably a better lieutenant than captain. When they find the DRAGON and it’s revealed it’s basically acting as a decoy for a sea-to-air attack, Salia kind of just freezes. She’s only saved from the fates of Coco & Co because Ange lures it away — not because she particularly cares about Salia (or anything), but because she’s trying to die.

Vilkiss, Resplendent in Assault Mode
Vilkiss, Resplendent in Assault Mode

That is, until that DRAGON grabs her paramail and stares her down, and she remembers the dying words of her mother: “Live on.” Her ring, which was returned to her, glows, and when blood from her head drips upon it, there’s a reaction that’s both surprising and utterly un-surprising considering Ange’s natural course from now on. She’s not going to die there, because she realizes she doesn’t want to die.

Ange's not ready to die yet after all
Ange’s not ready to die yet after all

To that end, she does what it takes to live on — wasting the dragon in a heated blaze of gun and sword attacks and ending the battle on an exclamation point, bailing out the tactically deficient Salia in the first sortie under her command. By the end, Ange is flushed with excitement, just as Zola said she’d get when she hit her back. Ange is still ashamed to feel this way, but she can’t deny she does.

I have Nothing. I am Nothing. I will live. Kill and live. That is all.
I have Nothing. I am Nothing. I will live. Kill and live. That is all.

She hasn’t been a knowing Norma long, and having not grown up as one doesn’t harbor the same deep scars, but she’s very quickly starting to understand what kind of living Norma must cling to. Even if it involves killing and a whole host of other nasty stuff, they have to take what they can get and find peace and solace however they can.

ange310

So Angelise cuts her long flowing locks and tosses them into the wind, to join her name, her past; everything else she’s ever had or been. She decides she will live on, as Ange, at any cost; not die as quickly or easily as her mother or young comrades. Then she takes the pudding Coco gave her out of the dustbin and dutifully chokes it down. It tastes disgusting, but it will nourish her soul. When in Hell, you savor every compromised comfort you can get your hands on.

9_brav

Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete – 03

ushi35qushi350

The show’s called “In Search of Lost Future”, so I expected a bit of time-shifting hijinx. This episode continues that theme by continually mixing the present as we know it with tinges of the past. To that end, we start with Airi dreaming about the first time she met Sou, which comes up later in the episode in a tender moment between the two (even though Airi doesn’t have, nor will she ever have, any shot at Sou; that’s just how these shows work).

ushi352

Airi also remembers how she came to befriend her future rival Kaori, in a relay race in which Kaori fell far behind and Airi had to give it her all to win. She suspects new girl Furukawa Yui to be just as athletically inept…

ushi353

Then spots Yui blasting through hurdles like a bat outta hell, disproving that theory in its infancy. Still, the primary matter at hand in the present is the investigation of the ghost sightings…that is, until another brush fire springs up that the Student Council asks Astronomy to put out: that between the Judo and Karate clubs…again?

ushi444ushi354

Yui, apparently possessing some memories (something only Nagisa knows), tries her darndest to keep Kaori out of the fray, lest she get injured and…well, we don’t quite know what Yui is worried about. Yui also laments that trying to act only makes events grow more “unpredictable”, suggesting maybe doing nothing would be better.

ushi355

The source of the “ghost” everyone at school’s been on about turns out to be a “horror workshop” stunt by the film club, who are chastened and rebuked…but just because their ghost was a ruse doesn’t mean there isn’t another ghost lurking up there on the school roof….which of course there is. Yui sees it clearly at the end, glowing blue and ominous.

ushi355a

So, you may ask: Just what the heck is going on? Well…I’ll have to get back to you on that once I’ve watched more, because even I’m not totally sure. Time is whimsical in this show, resulting in some inevitable confusion. Confusion aside, I still find myself invested enough in the members of the Astronomy club — particularly Sou, Airi and Kaori — to stay the course. Something very interesting is afoot, and so far we’ve only seen the seeds.

7_ses