Rolling Girls – 04

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Being plopped in the middle of a whole new setting with an entirely different political system and set of customs was as overwhelming for me as it was for the Rolling Girls last week, which at times threatened to rival Gundam-G levels of Proper Noun Onslaught (PNO). The crucial difference being I eventually understood Rolling Girls.

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Turns out Thunderroad’s second-in-command Noriko wasn’t taking the girls to be executed, but breaking them out, and letting them crash at her lovely house, where Yukina had actually been before when she had longer hair, glasses, and cuter clothes.

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The fact remains, they’re only safe for now; if and when they’re caught, they will be tortured and if found guilty, they’ll end up in the cut, where butlers and maids serve around the clock without rest. It’s a cosplay cafe HELL, and when the reality of their potential fate starts to weigh on them, tempers flare.

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Nozomi prefers to stay and clear Chiaya’s name; Ai thinks that’s foolhardy. Their spat is interrupted by Chiaya, who feels bad that this is all happening because its her stone that ended up lost. In other words, the group hits its first rough spot where nobody is in agreement what to do.

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Of course, we the audience know that’s all moot, particularly when Thunderoad decides to only sell Momiyama one stone: hers, not Chiaya’s. She races to Noriko’s to deliver it back to its owner, but trips on one of the city’s ubiquitous Roombas, and the stone slips of of her hand, off a balcony, and into the dense city night.

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Nozomi, meanwhile, calls home to tell her mom she’s alright, and not hanging out with any boys. The call is both practical and touching, then interrupted by Noriko’s mom insisting on re-spraying Nozomi’s bike, which she really doesn’t want.

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The girls then settle in for the night in the room Noriko gave them, having their first sleepover as a group…

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…then inexplicably change back into their street clothes to receive Thunderroad. They either thought it would be disrespectful to be in their jammies/underwear, or assumed she was coming to arrest them…or the animators messed up! Either way, Noriko and the girls alike are surprised to find Thunder apologizing to them for suspecting them…and for losing Chiaya’s stone.

She also points out what I thought had been obvious: the stones give their owners superhuman strength, speed, and stamina.

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A city-wide search of all Roomba’s progresses, but then a report comes in that one such Roomba has been rigged with a bomb that’s going to go off in five minutes. The people who sent it out—disgruntled Comima security guards—didn’t know it had a bomb until they read the note it came with…after launching it. Oops.

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No biggie; the heart stone eventually pops up, and even though Nozomi doesn’t notice it, Thunder’s crow Garm does, and flies it to her so she can power-up in-transit. The Roomba grows limbs and starts evading her, eventually landing cruelly in the afro of her beloved Rickshaw statue.

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Rick assures her it’s okay, as he was never a character to put his life above others, and Thunder brings her sword down on the Roomba, detonating it in a brilliant explosion. In the end, Thunder did the right thing…except for selling her own stone, which was supposed to be her first step towards retirement.

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Noriko, the Girl’s gracious host this whole episode, then confesses to being Dynamite Bombers; a group she invented out of thin air in order to give Thunder a reason not to retire, so much had she enjoyed serving with her. Thunder agrees not to retire, but installs Noriko as the new captain, preferring to serve as an ordinary solider so her delusions and greed don’t overcome her again.

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Chiaya, exercising the very opposite of greed, is impressed enough by Noriko’s gesture, and grateful for her hospitality, that she gives her stone to her. They’ll find other stones on their travels, and right now Noriko needs it more than her (though the Dynamite Bombers don’t exist, so I don’t know who her other enemies are).

After a call to her mom, the president (who wants her Home This Instant but is in no position to be making demands, considering she seemed to be more interested in the stones than her daughter to that point), Chiaya rejoins the others on their trip across Japan, substituting for Maccha Green, and they all realize they like the same band Ai happened to be humming.

While singing “It’s a nice day” over and over again makes for a lame ending theme, the closing montage of their adventures in Hakone and Fuji add some nice texture.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 16

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Oho…A/Z straight up brought it this week. Not to be outdone by Durarara!!’s best episode to date, it fielded its best as well. I held back a 10 last week purely due to the pure dumb (non-Kuma) shock from the suddenness of what had unfolded. This episode had no such shortcomings, and not only had time for a decent amount of well-paced, efficient action, but also time and room to paint some nice character strokes.

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That started with Inaho’s sister and guardian Yuki, whom we’d only seen in flashback form when she accidentally discovered Inaho could activate Aldnoah cores. That turned out to be a curse for a big sister, or any parent figure, for that matter, as his new ability meant things were only going to get harder for him as the earth leans more and more heavily upon him. She feels that again when he wakes up in the hospital.

Like us, Yuki thinks it’s all just too much for one young lad to bear, to say nothing of the strategic vulnerabilities of staking all your hopes to one prized thoroughbred. But her mothering ended up getting her separated from Inaho and reassigned to the Gulf of Aden, along with Marito. When news comes that the Deucalion is coming to port, the tee-totaling Marito declines Calvados, but Yuki drowns her tea in it. Being Inaho’s family is a stressful thing.

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Speaking of bearing burdens, Count Slaine is enjoying a brief honeymoon free of criticism from other counts who find it distasteful to gang up on him while Vers is still mourning the loss of Saazbaum, who despite his later decisions remains well-regarded in the empire. Slaine doesn’t just inherit his lands, titles, and equipment, but guardianship of Princess Asseylum, as well as the care of Princess Lemrina.

Lemrina tells Slaine she was the product of an affair by her father on the Moon, which is now in tatters. The only one who came to her aid was Saazbaum, and while she will never know his true intentions, she cannot deny that he owes her, as well as whomever succeeds him. She’s no Lady MacBeth—yet—but Lemrina and Slaine have the makings of an epic power couple. And at this point, Lemrina would really prefer if her sister never wakes up.

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Things seem calm and leisurely on the UE side as the Deucalion prepares to return to the surface, but Slaine wastes no time making his next move. He knows it’s only a matter of time before other counts start to move against him (we see two of those dandy counts indeed planning to accuse him of killing Saazbaum), but he also knows simply destroying them will accomplish nothing.

Instead, he will wrap himself in the very glory and honor of Vers: “The key is to show yourself to be so superior that they will not defy you in the first place.” This is Slaine at the top of his game, focused and merciless, and prepared to use any and all of the considerable resources he has come into to reach his goals.

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The same sentiment about demonstrating overwhelming superiority in order to crush your foes’ spirits is what fuels Count Mazuurek, who is one of the counts who wants to avoid unnecessary destruction and death so as many as the earth’s resources are preserved. He has been convinced/nudged into attacking Aden by his fellow counts Marylcian and Barouhcruz, and his victory is meant as the foundation for a coalition they mean to build against Slaine.

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They fail miserably, because as awesome as Mazuurek’s Gravity-Tornado Kataphrakt is, he’s only focused on the forces in front of him, not the battleship directly above him in low earth orbit, where Inaho disables him with one shot.

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Marito is able to distract him the proper amount of time because he’s able to overcome the traumatic flashbacks. Where they used to cause him to freeze up and become useless in battle, now they seem to fire him up. Souma believes that’s worth some celebratory hooch.

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But because Inaho and the Deucalion helped Marito and Yuki out, Trident Base was left unprotected. This wasn’t necessarily a foolish choice under the circumstances, as it was believed an attack would be highly unlikely so soon after the last battle, especially with the huge debris field to contend with.

But the UE brass probably weren’t thinking that someone like Slaine would pilot the Tharsis through the debris and blow up transport shuttles packed with the brim with munitions as they were in the process of docking. By the time the Deucalion hears of the attack, the base has been obliterated.

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Slaine returns to base triumphant, and one by one, everyone, aristocrat and mechanic alike, salute him, for doing what he set out to do, and doing it brilliantly. Not only did he deal a serious blow to the enemy and make them feel weak and helpless than ever, but he headed off any potential moves against him by his cowardly fellow counts. The mangy cur has become a wolf, and they can no longer touch him and come away unscathed.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Slaine’s troubles are over—far from it—but he’s in a far stronger position now than he was at the beginning of the episode, and he knows it. Bravo, Slaine. You are doing all the heavy lifting and power consolidation, while Inaho is content with small operations.

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…Or is he? Frankly, I think that Inaho would prefer not to do any of the shit he’s had to do. He does it because he’s the only one who can, and because he can’t close his eyes and will the war away. He, his friends, and his planet’s existence is at stake, so as always, he will try to use what he has to make a difference, and step up his game when necessary. And Inaho doesn’t complain or hesitate, even for a second.

He discovers pretty quickly that his nemesis is responsible for Trident’s fall, which he admits has forced his hand. I’m glad the gloves are coming off, but has Slaine progressed too far for Inaho to ever hope to catch up?

I’m gonna say no. And that can only mean good things for this show moving forward.

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Stray Observations:

  • I have to mention Sawao Hiroyuki’s musical contributions to this show, which hit new heights of awe and cinematic grandeur this week, particularly in the scene between Slaine and Lemrina, and his triumphant return to base.
  • Yuki’s reunion with Inko, Rayet, Nina and Calm is a sweet little scene I’m glad was included.
  • Along with the drinking scenes, that reunion was proof that even in an episode and a show packed with Huge Events, it doesn’t forget about the little moments.
  • The episode’s title is “Soldier’s Pay,” with significant scenes of Yuki and Marito. Marito’s “pay” are his dark memories he must make work for him; Yuki’s “pay” is her beloved little brother she’d tried so hard to protect. But consider what they’re both buying: Not just survival or pride, but freedom and victory over Vers. If Inaho pans out.

Durarara!! x2 Shou – 04

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You Do NOT Pick on Mikado…and you do NOT take a Kodata punch.

For three weeks, we’ve watched intently and patiently as Durarara!! built another painstakingly insane Rube Goldberg machine with a combination of familiar and new faces. This week, the machine is complete, and all that’s left is to switch it on and hope it works. Well, it not only held together, but blew me away. Even more amazing? For our friends, this was a day off.

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Let’s merge these chases!

Rather than a changing of the guard, this culmination was an initiation for the communities newbies.  The existing team isn’t going anywhere, necessarily, so the new guys will be augmenting and adding complexity…which is in ample supply this week.

The van quartet, fresh from rescuing the twins, also show up in time to rescue Mikado, Anri, and Aoba, and all of a sudden the van’s at capacity with the zebras on their back. In a brilliant piece of synergy, their chase merges with Celty’s, and the only way to get the kids safe is to hold the stampede off.

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“Time to do my thing.”

Celty finds an underpass and does just that, using her Dullahan skills to form a barrier. But even if the force against her is mostly numbskulls, there are hundreds of them, and she’s not about to kill anyone today.

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“Your assistance is appreciated.”

When her web starts getting holes, the man in her package pops out to help, looking a lot like a lanky Freddy Krueger. They’re also assisted by a headless suit of armor, which we see at the beginning is in Ruri’s workshop. This episode is called “Do as the Romans Do”, and Ruri and “Freddy” are in Rome, so they dive right in to help Celty.

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You tore my shirt and dropped by 500-yen coffee. Prepare to DIE.

The Zebra gang is soundly beaten, but because they know their boss won’t tolerate them crawling home with their tails between their legs, they try to find a tough rival gang to dice with. Bad move. Those unwelcome in Rome who pick fights meet a sticky end…and I’m not just talking about Shizuo’s spilled Starbucks.

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“Why don’t you smile?” “I AM smiling.”

Meanwhile, Kasuka makes what is the beginning of a beautiful personal relationship with Ruri a professional one as well, getting her signed to his agency after the CEO of hers has turned up missing. Ruri remarks how there’s so much she hasn’t told Kasuka about her, like what the missing CEO did to her, how she became Hollywood, and plenty else besides.

Kasuka doesn’t want to hear it; but not because he’s being insensitive. He’s afraid if she’s allowed to say everything she wants, she’ll think she’s free to die, and he doesn’t want her to die. Not only that, when she threatened to kill him, he got flustered and excited; he felt emotion. He’s not going to let someone who can affect him in that way go easily. But Ruri has found kinship in Celty and Egor and tasted life in Rome, so perhaps Kasuka is worrying too much.

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“I love it when a plan comes together!”

Speaking of Doing as the Romans Do, the Izaya twins decide to craft a scheme that would make their big brother Orihara proud…if they happened to care about his opinion, that is. That scheme starts with finding Celty’s ¥1 million, and ends with Celty getting all ¥1 million back…though in a way that the twins get a first-hand look not only at Celty, but all the other crazy shit going down in this town. In other words, an adventure far more exciting and fun than a boring sightseeing tour.

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The million comes back to Celty two ways: paying Shinra ¥200K for patching up Egor, then via the Sushi Head Chef (repaying the twins for fronting the Shinra cash) by hiring Celty to transport Egor in a bag for ¥800K. It gets Celty out in the open, and the twins a front-row seat. It also caused a lot of collateral damage, but most of that affected the biker gangs and bounty hunters, who were asking for it making such a stink in Ikebukuro anyway.

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While that busy day may have initiated, the twins and Egor to the Way Things Work in Rome, while adding their own mayhem to the formula, they still retire to their own apartment for a quiet celebratory meal. They’re not Dollars, after all; not yet, anyway.

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Back in possesion of her ¥1 million, Celty decides to learn how to cook, in order to be a better girlfriend to Shinra. In her choice of women, she demonstrates how your first (Anri) or second (Erika) contact may not have what you’re looking for (and let’s face it, those two just aren’t cooks, through and through) one or both of them are sur eto know someone who does, i.e. Mika, who is a top-notch cook.

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And in the process of searching for one, Celty turned the one-on-one lesson into a cooking class, which results in Shinra’s suggestion for a big Dollars hot pot party. While voicing her worry that continuing dangerous jobs will put Shinra and her other friends in danger, Shinra’s response is perfect:

“We’re family, so a little trouble doesn’t faze me…And if I can scale that wall with you, no predicament on earth can ever feel like trouble to me…See, I was able to overcome the greatest wall of all, getting you to love me, right?”

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We’ll see if that testimony holds up, because as Izaya remarks to Namie as the two observe the post-party-they-weren’t-invited-to chatter online, this was everyone’s day off. Soon, vacation will be over. Not only that, there’s another newcomer to Rome—Aoba—firing up a new gang to rival the Dollars and stir up his own trouble, but first aiming to get rid of Orihara.

Be it Aoba, Egor, Ruri and Kusaka, or the Izaya twins, haven’t quite experienced this place when the sparks are really firing. This episode’s dark closing ellipsis may foretell a time in the near future when the twins’ scheme, as fantastic and entertaining a machine as it was, will be seen as a harmless toy by comparison.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 16

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Garo remains fresh and watchable well into its second cour by continuing to experiment with new storytelling angles and different character focuses. As last week showed, the end product is not always a masterpiece, but I appreciate that the show commits to whatever particular story it tells with the utmost conviction. It succeeds best when it’s able to integrate an element of the main cast into its story-of-the-week, exploring every facet of their duty as both royal and Makai.

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Last week’s “Horror” was just a bear the townsfolk were able to deal with. This week we meet the traveling Doctor, Fabian, renowned throughout the kingdom for his skills. But instead of portraying him as benevolent and unmasking him later, we get his full story in an efficient cold open: the old Fabian is dying of plague, so a young man in the latest town he visits, who had promised his now-dead parents he’d find a cure, kills the old Fabian and takes up his mantle. That means becoming possessed by a horror that lurks in Fabian’s book.

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His next destination is Santa Bard, and Himena, the innkeeper’s daughter whom Herman has befriended ever since his Full Monty Day, is eager to assist the doc with the rush of patients, the first of whom is Herman, whose head hit the floor when Himena roused him from bed.

Just like Leon with Lara, scenes between Herman and Himena are the highlights of the show; there’s such nice warm chemistry and gentle flirtation. Father and Son are both benefiting from having mature relationships with strong, kind women.

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The show takes our fondness for Himena and then threatens to snatch her away, by putting her in such obvious danger with Dr. Fabian, who heals dozens if not hundreds of townsfolk, but also eats the occasional one when they’re just at the point of recovery (when they’re most delicious)…almost like an obeisance from Darker than Black. The young man who became Fabian was given great gifts, but he also became a monster. And Himena is his next meal.

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I also like how Himena may be in the dark about a great many things regarding Herman, but she’s not an idiot like the floozies (or horrors in the guise of women) he typically attracts. She even follows him one night and is shocked to find him not only meeting with Prince Alfie (Hi Alfie!) but the prince bowing his head to Herman. Who is this guy crashing at her inn? She suddenly becomes super-formal with him, as if she is undeserving of his presence…but then she becomes ill, not long after using the hand cream Fabian gave her.

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Fabian assures Herman she’ll be fine and bids him goodnight…but Herman is no idiot either (well…at least sometimes). He connects the dots of the new missing people to the doc’s daily “meals” (which the doc says is exercising restraint, as binge-eating is bad for one’s health…hear that, Rize?) and decides to shut down the practice, Garo-style.

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Fabian’s defeat is a relatively brisk, foregone conclusion, as most Makai battles tend to be, but with a twist this week: when Fabian (now in full horror mode; an interesting design with a apothecary cabinet for a sternum) beats Herman down, he feels the compulsion to heal him, even going so far as to restore him to perfect condition, even better than before the battle!

Within that horror beats the heart of a doctor, and the young lad in the beginning probably hoped to cure the plague, but this was the wrong way to do it, and good intentions do not excuse all the patient-eating. So it’s good night, Dr. Fabian. The people will get by without help tinged with evil.

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To my relief, Himena recovers as Fabian said she would (he never really lied about his true nature so much as keep it hidden), and Herman even does his best to assure her he’s not the fancypants aristocrat she thinks he is, and that she needn’t be deferential or ashamed of how she’s acted thus far. Eventually, Himena puts away her commoner mentality and they get back to interacting on even terms.

Then Garm summons Herman and tells him he’s going to be “working with Mendoza.” Uh, what now? Isn’t that cat dead? I guess we’ll find out soon, but that troubling possibility doesn’t invalidate all the good this episode had going for it.

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Death Parade – 04

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Death Parade broke my expectations this week. Sort of. In that my guess based on episode 3’s post credits preview didn’t pan out 100% the way I expected. However, the resulting ‘surprise’ was deeply unsettling in a way that I don’t think Death Parade intended…

So, I’m left with a conundrum. Death Parade is in no way a competitor for Yuri Kuma, which it is paired with. It is, however, a reasonable competitor for Yatterman and/or JnM. Heck, since I more or less admitted I will keep Binan Koukou even though it ‘fell to Yatterman,’ should I break my word and keep this show too?

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Honestly? Even though I have my reservations about ‘how it made me think,’ Death Parade probably deserves an on-going review slot on my docket.

Why? Let me sum this week up: We break the mold in ep4 by pitting two people who DO NOT KNOW EACH OTHER against one another. This may sound trivial but changing the formula to allow anyone — anyone at all — who dies around the same time to ‘face off’ against another ghost opens up a lot of potential.

In this outing Yousuke and Misaki have no filial or accidental relationship. In fact, even their tragedy only has an oblique relationship, and then, only as inverse ‘traumas.’ Rather, Yousuke has issues with his step mother, who is an incredibly good person, and ultimately with his own inability to accept her for that. Where as Misaki has issues with being a woman who was constantly abused by men, who shackled her with children, but deeply cared about her children until the end…

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So it’s complicated and not a is one person right or wrong/ good or evil, as has been posed by previous episodes. Good!

However, as with previous episodes, the woman is cast into ‘hell’ for reasons that are either alien to my cultural upbringing or alien to Japanese cultural expectations but not ‘critiqued’ hard enough by the characters for me to appreciate. So the result is “I thought a lot about the episode” but I’m not sure I’m thinking about the episode in the terms intended by the creator…

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Truly, I don’t get why Misaki is tossed to the void at the end. Sure, she is brutal and her abuse doesn’t make up for her treatment of Youske. Likewise, she smacks her manager the same way she was smacked by the brutal men in her life before. But wtf??

I totally buy her frustration of being pulled away from her children again, even though she finally has money and means to support them, and that she honestly is supporting them the only way she knows how.

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Even though Dequim shows the first sign of actual emotion, it’s really weird that he sides against the woman yet again — and yet again it seems like the woman is in the clear (blatantly) from my biased American viewpoint. So what to make of it all?

The good: as always, it was a beautiful episode, fantastically controlling mood and professionally well timed. More to the point, there was no ‘arm flailing ahhh moment’ to make the characters feel stupid, or fourth wall breaking, For this it gets an 8 without question.

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However, and this is partially because I read (and lost the link to) a very good article that debates the 4th episode’s treatment of women, Death Parade has consistently tacked… counter to my cultural up bringing in regards to women and their rights.

To explain, one reviewer noted that DP takes a ‘surface beauty’ approach to women in episode 4 by showing the girl as she would be post plastic surgery and by soft-pitching her love interest a ‘why not, she’s pretty now’ scenario. Seriously? Would any of us care if she was his ‘ugly childhood friend when she was that hot not AND they were already dead? It cheapens the idea that a person, especially a woman, can be good and attractive for what she is, especially if she’s only the plastic parts she reconfigured herself to be after death…

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I’m not going to feminazi you hard core here, nor do I agree with it 100% but… yeah. I don’t really get Misaki’s voiding at the end of this. To me, it just felt weird.

Am I biased? Yes. My mother died in agony before me days before my 18th birthday. Even with that caveat, its very hard to respond to ‘3 in a row’ without noticing a pattern. Even if that pattern broke my expectation of a ‘double void’ this week.’

hrm… am I really not going to drop this show even though I promised myself I’d do 3 and only 3 for the season? Maybe. Intentionally or not, it certainly has me thinking…

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Final verdict: the only issue I had with this is actually Youske himself. His backstory is dull, undefined, and he comes off as stupid — even to himself in retrospect. Without a meaningful counterpoint to Mizaki’s seriously gripping, emotionally backstory, this ep is held back.

But only by a smidge! DP 4 comes dangerously close to a 10 and you better go download or stream it now! Stream the whole series while you’re at it! The first three aren’t winners but they’re no slouches either!

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ISUCA – 02

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Every once or twice in a decade, the fates conspire to bring us a truly great and unique work of art that is so bowl-you-over astonishing, it captures the imagination of the entire planet. I think I speak to all who have experienced it that Isuca episode two is that…and more.

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High school girls undressing in the locker room? Pretty standard fare. But a carpet of rats suddenly bursting out of a locker, knocking the half-naked girls over, and proceeding to eat them alive as they’re sexually aroused? We’re at the pinnacle, ladies and gentlemen. Savor it…for it will never be this good again.

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Yes, that review above was just an illusion, borne from ISUCA sucking your life force right out of you. In reality, Preston has punted this to me. The thing is, it’s(uca) not as an excruciating ordeal as it sounds. This episode was mostly harmless, and surprisingly fun. Devoid of any semblance of weight or significance, yes; simple and innocuous, sure…yet sometimes rubbing up against something resembling slyness. In other words, it was a pussycat. A pussycat going commando.

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Tama, the two-tailed cat specter Sakuya is about to pierce with an arrow last week, becomes Asano Shinichirou’s familiar when he happens to learn her true name, after recalling a stray cat in a box that he must have cared for. She tries to help him deal with the Rat King baddie, but runs out of go-juice, AKA life force.

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Now that is simply a masterful landing, worthy of song; not to mention Tusk’s approval. To not only land face up from such a great height without breaking one’s back, but to have one woman’s face land on your crotch, and another girl’s crotch landing on your face, all inches from the bones of eaten classmates…I ask you: What else is there to say? #weareallasano.

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We learned from visiting her house that Sakuya is a hopeless slob, and so her and Shinichirou’s teacher (and associate of Sakuya’s family) appoints Shinichirou as her maid. But despite the squalor she’d lived in up to that point, she harbors an unreasonable fear or rats and cockroaches, rendering her fairly useless. This week she’s one of the people standing around while others do something.

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And that something is…making out, complete with tongue and drool. ISUCA would be a pretty workaday fantasy action joint, only it aims to distinguish itself by inserting sex pretty much anywhere it can, like a shoplifter stuffing Slim-Jims into their many trench coat pockets. This is not a new concept. But even with the silly ecchi elements, the danger has a nice sharp edge to it.

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Shinichirou’s life force turns out to be SURGE to Tama, who takes out the Rat King with laughable ease, and a fair amount of badassery. Only, when she’s back to her normal self, she’s holding her pray in her mouth like a cat, proud to be presenting a gift for her master (I know, it’s debatable whether that’s what cats do, but let me dream, man!). 

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So we have Sakuya the Slob hiring Shinichiru as her housemaid, and Shinichirou having Tama, whom he names “Tamako”, as his eternal retainer, who’ll have to periodically make out with him to stay alive, which is a pretty good deal, as they’ve each saved each others’ lifes at least twice at this point. That brings us to the fact that Tama is Special; a vessel for freakishly high-level spiritual power. And he makes a mean stir-fry.

Wait…is that RAT MEAT? WHAT IS THIS, SKYRIM?

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End-of-Month Rundown – January 2015

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Click to view full-size

January is finally behind us. Good riddance, you cold bitch! However, we did discover some gems in the icy bleakness, and February will prove no warmer around here, weather-wise.

This month, let’s do something different, and see if we’ve actually learned the lessons we listed in last month’s rundown:

1. Don’t stick with a show that may look and sound great but seems to be perpetually stalling.

Uso and Parasyte have slowed down, but remain watchable, for now. GARO is its usual episodic hit-or-miss self, and Gundam G is just a joke we keep around to point and laugh at as a shining example of how NOT to make a Gundam, a mecha anime, or a television show in general.

2. Avoid shows you can’t say anything nice about. 

We’ve dropped eight shows to date, all of which you could probably say one or two nice things about, but not much else.

3. Don’t keep reviewing shows you can’t say anything at all about, aside from providing a summary.

Check.

4. Shows that air bi- or tri-weekly have a much greater chance of falling by the wayside.

Preston lost interest and dropped Sailor Moon Crystal, and while Kami-Haji 2 took a week off, that was an anomaly, and in any case the show is more than good enough to survive one week off. Check.

5. Don’t judge a book by its cover…

Shout it from the rooftops: SAEKANO!!! What on it’s surface looked like another competent InoBato/Oreimo harem rom-com is in the early running for anime of the year…no joke.

(Also, if you so desire, whisper KanColle from the basement.)

Other surprises: Binan Koukou (positive) and Death Parade (negative); see Franklin’s comments below.

6. …Unless the cover is obviously representative of the book.

Seiken Tsukai no World Break, Shinmai Maou no Keiyakusha, Tantei Kageki Milky Holmes TD, Juuou Mujin no Fafnir, and Sengoku Musou were pretty much what we thought they were.

Koufuku Graffiti also didn’t hide what it was on it’s cover, but both cover and book are splendidly delicious, so Check!

7. Drop shows quickly and focus on giving the shows you really love the attention they deserve; don’t drag things out.

Check and Check, thanks to Franklin’s bracket. We’ve managed to keep our total show count down while giving everything a relatively fair shake.

8. While it’s nice to run comparisons between two similar shows, it’s probably best to pick one or the other in a busy season.

Not quite a Check, since we’re keeping both Yatterman and Rolling Girls around, and that will remain so for the time being, because both have their individual merits.

9. Don’t automatically commit to sequels. They might end up stinking.

Tokyo Ghoul Root A has had moments that have surpassed the original, while Durarara!!x2 Shou was a little harder to get back into after a few years, but it coming along just fine. Aldnoah.Zero has mostly recovered from its unfortunate first season finale. Everyone here can agree, none of these sequels “stink” anywhere near the way Chaika did. God, that show still makes Preston steam.

10. Have fun!

We added this new lesson to this rundown, because RABUJOI was started so we could sharpen our writing and critical skills while enjoying anime we love. If there’s no RABU or JOI in it, what’s the point?

Steins Gate – 15

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I kinda expected Rintarou, Kurisu and Suzuha to immediately hop in the time machine and start saving the world, but it appears I was too hasty. Instead, we learn slivers of life in 2036 under SERN’s brutal authoritarian regime. Suzuha’s father, whom she’s never even met, bequeathed the machine to her, with the implication that she should carry on his legacy.

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All of the @chan posts by John Titor were actually written by Suzuha, and read by both Kurisu and Rintarou under their own aliases…though in a nice bit of S;G humor inserted in an otherwise serious situation, Kurisu and Suzuha know full well Rintarou’s handle was Hououin Kyouma without him having to say it.

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Kurisu also finally learns the reason Suzuha’s always stared daggers at her: as the future inventor of the time machine, Kurisu is the one who creates the practical possibility of time travel, which opens the flood gates for SERN and eventualy leads to dystopia. (A disquieting fact she also lays down: both Okarin and Kurisu are dead in the year 2036.)

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Of course, it’s not really fair for Suzuha to blame present Kurisu for this, and this is a fact even Suzuha gradually comes to realize as she interacts with her more. Here and now, they’re both lab members and allies. So when it turns out Suzuha’s time machine is broken, Rintarou and Kurisu offer a helping hand.

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This week also marks the return of Alive Mayushii. Seriously…we don’t have to go through watching her die horribly or anything, which is great. But even in this current timeline, the time for her demise quickly approaches.

Rintarou (aw, hell, let’s call him Okarin again for now, shall we?), Kurisu and Suzuha come up with a plan, but when they run into Mayushii and Daru on the street, he has to somewhat brusquely cancel her well-meaning attempt to jump-start the party in spite of his prior warnings.

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Mayushii’s extended, almost knowing wave goodbye, along with Okarin’s half-hearted agreement that they’ll see each other tomorrow—is drenched in anguish. Will this work? It must.

When he slaps on those headphones, he’s doing it to save ‘the world’, his world being Mayushii. And this time he executes a double time leap: jumping back to the time the machine was first completed so he can jump even further back, to August 11.

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This time, Okarin doesn’t try to fix everything himself. This time, there’s a plan: Explain everything to the others (not Moeka LOL) and have Daru fix the time machine so Suzuha can go back to 1975 to grab the IBN 5100 (needed to hack into SERN) and delete the message telling SERN the time machine has been invented in Akiba in 2010, thus changing the future, creating the beta world line, and most likely saving Mayushii.

Simple. What could possibly go wrong?

Mind you, Okarin doesn’t tell them everything; when Daru asks why it’s so important he fix the machine in two days, Okarin doesn’t mention the hell he’s been through, but it’s probably best if Daru doesn’t have the pressure of knowing Mayushii will die horribly if he fails.

Oh yeah, Mayushii’s there too…and as is her wont, she brings up something no one else has: What about Suzuha meeting her dad? Even if she knows she’ll die if they don’t get this plan implemented, Mayushii won’t allow Suzuha’s wish to fall by the wayside. So as the others work, Mayushii takes it upon herself to find Suzu’s dad.

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This gesture eventually moves Suzu to tears, though only Daru sees them, as he asks her a second time to bring him back a rare anime cel from the 70’s. It’s good to have Daru back in the game. It just feels right to have the whole lab working towards a goal, and Daru and Suzuha one-on-one is a combo we definitely haven’t seen a lot (or any?) of.

Even Okarin is inspired to search the web for people peddling small pins like the one Suzu carries, hoping it will lead them to her dad. Suzu comes by later to give Okarin the divergence meter he made in the future, and which will switch over to 1.0 when the future changes.

She also tells Okarin he was the one who founded the very resistance movement she’s a member of in 2036. In a way, he’s her hero, or will be. It’s a very interesting relationship these two have, especially when Okarin curses his future self for giving up on Mayushii and fulfilling stupid puerile fantasies, and Suzuha corrects him: he wasn’t being stupid or living in a fantast: he was trying to create a better future for everyone.

It could end up being the case that Mayushii simply can’t be saved, even if they reach the beta world line, and continuing to try would be an exercise in further futility and self-destruction.

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Still, Okarin has a point: whatever point he gave up on saving her, I’m sure he had done everything he possibly could have done, but I still don’t want him to become that Okarin. I imagine that Okarin went on far longer in his lonely and futile crusade to find the right formula to save her, and failed a lot more, and became a lot more haunted and broken. Then again, if it wasn’t for that Okarin, there’d have been no resistance and no Suzuha coming to 2010.

Sure, Mayushii almost gets arrested for distributing flyers falsely accusing Suzuha’s father of kidnapping, and generally fails to get any leads, but just having her around, being warm, caring Mayushii, is a real shot in the arm for me as much as for Okarin and the other members.

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Her efforts weren’t all for naught, either: she inspired Okarin to scour the bauble tables around Akiba and he got lucky: one vendor says he may know where the pin came from and/or who it belonged to. With Daru is almost done the repairs to the machine, Okarin races to that vendor.

He wants to save Mayushii more than anything, but he can’t discount everything Suzuha has done for him and the lab. Finding her dad so they can meet for the first time before she leaves is the least he can do for her. So off he goes.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 15

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In a show with so many pleasing sounds, it’s distressing that the most noticeable sound this week was the sound of wheels spinning. With one frankly head-scratching exception, all of the key events of this episode were merely rehashing points that have already been made, with little in the way of new insights, and delivered with a distressing abundance of melancholy.

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First up in this Pity Party is Tsubaki, whose problem remains the same as last week’s, but now she diagnoses herself as standing still in life as everyone else moves on. It was one thing for Kousei to be taken away by music in the form of Kaori; now there’s talk of him going abroad. The timing couldn’t be worse, as she’s just realizing these feelings when he’s about to ship off.

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Tsubaki has also been totally phoning it in with Saito, and with his crush on her long gone, he’s the one to dump her, which he tries to laugh off as the two simply being too much alike. Obviously, it’s for the best. I was no more invested or comfortable with this pairing than Tsubaki was!

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Tsubaki waits for Kousei in the practice room, and he listens to her tale of being dumped as he plays Clair de Lune. But sorry, Uso: I won’t get fooled again; this is a pretty scene, but it accomplishes nothing that hasn’t been already well-well-well-established.

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Kousei can say he’ll “stay by her side” freely, but I’m not sure why, beyond trying to half-heartedly comfort her. She knows you’re moving away, dude. You can’t say you’ll stay by someone’s side and then move away. That’s the opposite of staying by someone’s side. Saying something like that makes you a liar, which is, incidentally, the title of this episode.

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The episode doesn’t spend all its time reiterating and embellishing the slo-mo train wreck that is Tsubaki and Kousei’s relationship, but dances from place to place. Kousei keeps hesitating to visit Kaori in the hospital. Emi is killing it in competition, with Kousei as her muse, while Takeshi is only wounding it.

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The most inexplicable development is the pint-sized Aizoto Nagi falling out of a tree into Kousei’s lap. He takes her to Hiroko’s, where she wakes up and reveals she’s a top piano student at a prodigious school, and begs Hiroko to be her teacher. After hearing Nagi play the same Etude Kousei played in the competition (harshly, but very well for her age), Hiroko agrees to bring her on.

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Nagi tearfully rejoices, but those tears were faked by eyedrops; this is all clearly some kind of scheme. But the joke may be on her, as Hiroko delegates her training to Kousei. You know what they say: “Those who can’t [hear the notes], teach.”

I’m not quite sure what to make of Nagi’s introduction (hence the head-scratching), except that it’s kinda late in the game to be introducing a moe misfit. The check-ins with Emi and Takeshi reminded me the show doesn’t have enough time to do all the characters it already has justice.

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Then, the cherry on top of this Cake of Despair is Kaori, who was pushed to the sidelines for the whole episode due to her being in hospital and Kousei refused to see her. He comes close once, but hears Ryouta laughing with her in her room and scurries away.

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It’s not enough that we know Kaori has some undisclosed illness that requires ridiculous of meds and intermittent, interminable hospital stays. We also have to watch in horror as her legs suddenly give out beneath her, in the dark corridor of a hospital where apparently no one is on duty. Pretty dang morbid.

I’m sure someone will find her, and she’ll be put back in bed, and Kousei will visit her and she’ll simply laugh and smack him in a stylized comic burst and basically tell him everything but the truth.

Everyone is suffering in Uso right now (except Saito, but who cares about him?), and I’m starting to suffer right alongside them. Would it kill somebody to tell another what they’re really thinking? For gosh sakes, the destroyer girls did it in their third episode!

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Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 04

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Tokyo Ghoul combines lots of concepts and themes familiar to me through other shows, animated or not, and elaborates upon, improves, or polishes them to a sheen, resulting in an end product that is greater than the sum of those appropriated parts. Four shows that came to mind were The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica (the newer one), and Bleach. A strange trio, I know.

First, this episode started out like X-Files, what with the odd-couple investigators diving into a dark secret-of-the week. Amon mirrored Mulder in the bearing of his traumatic event from the past that shaped the man he is today: having to pay a visit to a ghoul who once ran the orphanage where Amon grew up. Akira is Scully, questioning why they’re even there and turning out to be right about it probably being a bad idea.

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That’s because the day they’ve come to the Ghoul internment facility is the same day Aogiri Tree planned a massive attack, turning the quiet detective episode into an all-out spectacle. Few shows did bold spectacles better than Battlestar, and the creepily-cloaked Aogiri forces massing atop the prison, then descending upon the norma-looking prison guards below, reminded me of a swarm of implacable Cylon raiders going in for the kill. This is going to be a bad day for many many people.

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One place where Koutarou and Akira definitely have Mulder and Scully beat is in the combat department, as neither embarrass themselves in the heated battle against those swarms. Akira just happened to be unlucky enough to come afoul of the childish yet lethal Naki, who bites her in the leg and renders her a non-factor for the duration.

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It’s the doves fighting with their quinques and the masked ghouls fighting with their kagunes…well that’s just Shinigami with their Zanpakutos versus Arrancar with their Resurrection. The difference being, in Bleach, battles were often handled one at a time, and at a very deliberate pace, often stretching several episodes. TG compresses and distills the elaborate character and weapon designs and myriad battles into one bonanza of an episode with a lot more going on.

Then it has matchups that are clever, if unexpected, vehicles for fleshing out characters, like the black and white twins bumping into Suzu (who they know somehow) or Ayato facing his father…in the form of Shinohara’s armor.

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This is also just a good bonding experience for Koutarou and Akira, with the former invoking the words of the latter’s father about not letting up the fight even if you lose your arms and legs…the Black Knight mentality. Koutarou insists Akira not give up, and climb onto his shoulders while he handles the numerous but uncoordinated and fairly weak Aogiri third-stringers.

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Ken, meanwhile calmly walks about the facility, unfazed by everything around him. His role in the mission is limited to releasing a high-security captive in “Mr. Shachi.” You’d think he’d be grateful for being sprung, but he smells Rize on Ken and they initiate the fight that’s the centerpiece of the second half of the episode. These are two tough customers, but Ken is still inexperienced, and Shachi essentially toys with him.

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Even so, there’s a kind of inevitability to this fight, as if Ken was meant to be beaten senseless so that he can awaken an even stronger version of himself. He certainly seems to be on board with that, as he knows everyone he cares about (his “liabilities”) will die unless he get stronger. Eto stops Kamishiro from continuing his onslaught, while Ken sprouts a new and even more unsettling mask, something I can’t help but think Eto intended to happen.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 03

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Tomoya needs to deliver an awesome game proposal to the tentative circle if he’s to convince them—and himself—that he’s serious about his dream. But as an otaku in a room filled with media to consume, Tomoya finds himself easily slipping from his task of creating.

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The three girls in his circle lend him support in their own ways. Eriri simply stops by unannounced (she literally sneaks in without him knowing) and draws in his room as he works. It doesn’t take Tomoya long to learn his childhood friend’s intent, and her textbook tsundere act only adds fuel to the fire. He’s grateful to her, but he’s also keen on surpassing her one day.

Eriri doesn’t laugh this off, because she’s not sure it’s something to laugh about. Neither do we. Tomoya may be procrastinating, but he’s definitely trying. His heart is in it…his brain and body simply need to catch up.

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To Eriri’s horror, Utaha shows up at Tomoya’s house, first to pretend she’s there to mess around, but then fesses up that she’s merely “visiting a soldier on the front.” I’ve really just met Utaha, but that just sounds like such an Utaha expression. Once she learns how little Tomoya has accomplished (he’s honest, because she’s a creator, but also because he’s serious), Utaha tries to discourage him from continuing and advises him to return to a life of consuming media.

What’s great about this tack is that condescension, while present and accounted for, is not her primary intent. When she goes off on a passionate rant, seemingly channeling Eriri’s energy for a moment (only more frightening since she’s usually so calm), she admits she likes having consumers like Tomoya read her work without trying to attack her with it or analyze her to death. He’ll analyze her work, sure, but not her. He believes she’s at the top of her game, and is above such pettiness.

(Oh, and I was mindful of the fact that a large chunk of the second straight episode was taking place in Tomoya’s room. I was also mindful of the fact I didn’t care in the slightest. After all, think about the rooms you inhabit throughout the day. You’re in those rooms a lot, right? Why should it be any different for Tomoya, especially with the task before him?)

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Once Salt & Pepper peace out, Tomoya gets a call from Vanilla, her second to him in the episode. The first one was quite obviously checking in, albeit in the casual, semi-involved way Kato does most things. Her second call is also checking in, but neither call feels the slightest bit out of obligation.

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It feels like Kato and Tomoya want nothing else than to be talking to each other, here and now. The conversation flows so easily, it almost drizzles like warm honey into a cup of piping hot tea. It’s very much a routine boyfriend-girlfriend chat, right down to Kato being in a loud place where it’s hard to hear, but not hanging up or calling back later.

But it also happens to be extremely well-written and nuanced boyfriend/girlfriend chat, with double significance, as they’re also talking on the level of artist and muse. Saekano likes to joke around with the tropes of its genre, but it is also perfectly capable of being dead serious and sincere when it’s called for.

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Here’s just a taste of the honey, which starts with a few seconds of silence by Kato, indicating even she must steel herself to say certain things:

Kato: What was it about me that appealed to you, Aki-kun? …You know, like, “Boy, it sure was fun when we did that,” or, “Wow, I sure love that about her,” or even the opposite, and something that you didn’t like.
Tomoya: Have you contracted a fatal disease and you won’t live to see me tomorrow?
Kato: It’s nothing that dramatic, but, well, is there?
Tomoya: Let me think…Well, everything was fun. Really fun.
Kato: Then there’s no room for improvement?

Tomoya goes on to say he maybe wished she had been a little more overbearing, though not mean-spirited like the other two girls. Kato doesn’t get the difference, but in any case, signs off for the night. The phone call strikes a perfect balance of honesty, bluntness, relaxedness, and excitement.

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Tomoya proceeds to sit at his laptop and then hastily waste another day, and then a fair chunk of another, and then the voices of self-doubt start to ring in his head.

Returning to the hill where Kato dropped her beret in a desperate search for inspiration, Tomoya finds only a hill, and the doubt continues to build until his eyes water, feeling helpless to stop this whole enterprise from ending before it began…

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…Then a white beret floats into his field of vision, almost like a flying saucer in the sky. The alien before him is only Kato, but she’s been…transformed. The cherry blossom petals return at the sight of her in her super-moe dating-sim heroine outfit. Not only that, Kato is talking and acting precisely the way such a heroine would in a game. Every word; every gesture.

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Before Utaha left Tomoya’s place, she told him if he’s truly serious about this dream, it’s not enough to merely convince her and the rest of the circle of his plan’s merit. He must bring them into it, and get them to want to give it their all, through the sheer force of his will and charisma. Utaha, not surprisingly, wants him to be forceful.

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In her motivational heroine act, Kato is already being pretty forceful. Turns out she went to Eriri and Utaha and begged them to lend her their strength. Eriri perfected her wardrobe, while Utaha handled her dialogue and mannerisms. And by God, not only do they prove they’re the real deal, but Kato proves she’s the ideal blank(-ish) canvas upon which to paint Tomoya’s dream game.

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And while I know part of her is simply putting on an act to inspire him to press on, that act, and the desire to carry it out, comes from a place of genuine affectionate concern for Tomoya; a place of love, just as his legitimate, if not overtly-stated, affection for her is what started him on this path in the first place.

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And there’s no better ‘cover’ to say the things they say and do the things they do with minimized embarrassment, than under the more detatched guise of creator+heroine. It’s not just a guise I see through, but Eriri and Utaha as well. Any girl who can kick Tomoya out of his disappointing sedentary existence to this extent is a girl to be taken seriously.

But the bottom line is, Kato makes everyone around her better. Individually, she, Eriri, and Utaha had a slight motivating effect on Tomoya. Working collaboratively increased that effect exponentially, which in Tomoya’s case, meant he eventually did write something down.

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While negotiating when Kato will be able to leave his place Tomoya agrees to 6 AM rather than 7, not just because “girls take longer to get ready”, but because “it would be crazy to end the same way two episodes in a row!” The meta moments of earlier eps are still here, but they’re more smoothly integrated in the narrative, and when they do pop up like here, they’re a pleasant and hilarious surprise rather than a distraction.

Naturally, Eriri and Utaha lambast Tomoya’s proposal for being too overt and indulgent, which makes sense, considering he’s really telling the story of how he met and fell for Kato Megumi…who he worked so hard last night, she’s asleep beside him in the cafe booth. Those facts alone guarantee Salt & Pepper’s criticism will be tinged with resentment. This show is just too frikkin’ good.

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Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu Love! – 04 (Can’t Give You Up)

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Oy! Oigakkosan! What’re you doing? You dropped this show, son! Leave it alone and move on!

“Bwahahaha,” I say! Like any addiction, Binan Koukou starts off innocuous enough. I laughed, I rolled my eyes, I generally felt wonderful while watching it but I never knew I’d be ants-itchy for more?

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Wait? you’re giving it a 9?: Binan Koukou has wonderfully tight dialog that feels exactly like bored guys shooting the breeze to pass the time. It may not have the accompanying throb of music to sell its emotions like Yurikuma, nor the high-art juxtaposition of highs and lows of Yatterman Nights, because it doesn’t need to.

In all seriousness, if you strip away the genre-reversal hook of Battle Lovers, it’s just about five guys who’ve become friends in high school, who are both distinct in personality and going with the same flow. The joke around, make fun of each other, make fun of culture, make fun of the world around them, but always just to have fun.

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In fact, because we know how the genre works, and they know how the genre works, there’s no tension to the conflict at all. Normally, this would drive me nuts because it defies the logic of how-we-tell-compelling-stories.

However, because BL’s boys are so engrossed in their own amusement, it basically doesn’t function as a narrative in the first place. Sure, narrative happens, but BL is about guys amusing themselves first and, because the boys are so pleasant to be around, we get to feel included in their little group.

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It’s hard to express clearly, if you haven’t had the experience. Essentially, watching BL is what it’s like to be in a high school clique.

I’d even argue the Student council shows us what a bad, false clique is like too. These guys only get along on the surface because they have some random goal they are pursuing and, even then, they don’t actually have much fun doing it. This reminds me of my days playing D&D or Halo in some random SOB’s basement that none of us really enjoyed…

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Okay okay so what actually happened this week?: The boys are talking about perceived age and Blue gets the blues because he looks ‘oldest.’ Pink and Red are dubbed “youngest,” but Pink contends that he uses it for cute and Red is just a child.

Red continually proves this point but all of this teasing banter upsets the monster of the week, who is another student that everyone thinks is an old man.

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And there was some backstory that establishes the Student Council president was a childhood friend of Green’s and they both wished upon shooting stars together. Green’s was to become a super hero and the President’s was… probably world domination.

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This week’s battle pitted elementary-school versions of the Battle Lovers against a pink haired anime villain dude. To say it was adorable as they fell all over themselves in their baggy clothes would be an understatement. That is to say nothing of their nude-battle as kindergartners that followed.

At the end of the day, as always, the villain is defeated by a love shower and comes to terms with his own inner weakness. Unlike previous villains, the boys see him again later, in the bath, and his life really has turned around. He’s got a girlfriend who likes older, more reliable men…

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My verdict is to be frustrated. This is such a fun show to watch, and it toes the line with BL now and again in a way that I think is equal measure clever and palatable. It’s just not all that pretty and lacks the ‘must see’ of a high art show like Yatterman so I really do think I should drop it…

But man– man! It’s a fun little show to watch!

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Oigakkosan’s Winter 2015 Bracket (Third Round)

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The current crop is pretty good and, despite rough patches, actually turning into something memorable. That may not sound like much but, as my fellow reviewers will testify, memorable is a high bar to reach in my book.

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Binan Koukou (8+7+8/10) vs Yatterman Nights (8+6+8/10)

By far the hardest pair to resolve, Yatterman’s stronger third episode and greater potential for an interesting story ultimately won out. I know! I know! This isn’t super surprising in the grand scheme of things. Binan is just a gender-swap twist on the Sailor Scouts genre but it delivers really really really good dialog each week.

Add Yatterman’s difficult-to-understand-without-significant-background second episode, drab color pallete, and slow pace and I truly considered siding with the simpler of the two shows.

If you enjoyed Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun and other tightly written school comedies, you owe it to yourself to give Binan at least three episodes. So far it’s shown no intention of becoming a BL show, nor has it stuck strictly to the safety of it’s formula.

Still, there’s a formula at its core and there’s not much at stake. Certainly, not much that I can see writing about each week?