Kantai Collection: KanColle – 01 (First Impressions)

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So far the Winter has given us magical guys, bears in human form, and now, some bizarre hybrid of high school girls, traditional warriors, and naval vessels. It’s as if someone pulled three random things from a hat and just went with it. There’s an underlying sincerity and pluckiness to the whole operation that kept me watching.

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But there isn’t much else underlying this show’s very slick and snappy skin. It falls victim to a common plague among intro episodes: trying to do and show too much. If you blink you’ll miss the introductions of half a dozen technicolor characters. The only ones who made any impression at all were the underdog protagonist Fubuki and the perfect senpai Akagi, but both are pretty dull achetypes.

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Still, the premiere gets by compensating for its narrative depth (good vs. evil; new girl wants to get stronger…that’s about it) with some really nifty action, though I won’t deny I chortled a little bit at the first sight of girls wearing bits of the ships they represent like clothing accessories. They could easily come off as goofy halloween costumes, but the sequence of Fubuki getting equipped was a nice bit of WTF spectacle.

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I may still prefer the heft of the full-size ships the avatar characters in Arpeggio of Blue Steel ‘rode’ into battle…even if they looked like reanimated corpses. In KanColle, characters are usually animated normally, while their CGI versions are very close in appearance; only a little stiff.

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Fubuki is thrown right into the deep end, as her comrades assume she’s been in more battles than they have, since she came highly recommended by the fleet commander. But she’s woefully unready for real battle, and must be rescued by the ‘First Carrier Fleet’ led by Akagi and Kaga. Like the Fubuki-equipping scene prior, the show exhibits some cleverness by having Akagi’s arrows turn into warplanes – the arrows being a symbol of the catapults carriers use to launch planes at sea.

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As for the baddies, called ‘Abyssals’, they kinda just stand around and let themselves get whooped. They don’t even say anything. Considering all the dark clouds and badass get-ups, I was expecting more. That being said, the more beast-like Abyssals are a effectively stark aesthetic contrast to Fubuki’s bright, shiny, civilized world. I just don’t really care about them in any way.

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This intro, dizzying as it often was, at least kept most of the focus on Fukubi, and in a way, everything it threw at us was a parallel to her own newbie experience. After Bahamut, I’m no longer one to laugh off adaptations online card games. KanColle never embarrassed itself, looked great, and had some clever details, it suffered from a glut of bland characters and a dearth of emotional depth.

Then again, it’s better than Gundam G. Faint praise, but better than scorn.

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One-Minute Research: KanColle is directed by Kusakawa Keizo (Akuma no Riddle) with series composition by Hanada Jukki (Chu2Koi, Kyoutai no Kanata, Steins;Gate). Fukubi is voiced by Uesaka Sumire (Dekomori Sanae, Chu2Koi).

Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu – 13

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Tamiya Ryouko is getting things done. She’s assembled a group of like-minded full-body parasytes willing to temper their primal urges and help her find more efficient ways to coexist with humans. Her baby is also coming along nicely, though the nanny she hired is freaked out when she touches the crying babe’s head and says “quiet”, and the baby just…shuts up. Just like that. Like flipping a switch.

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That ability to flip a switch on one’s emotions, both internally and externally and indeed without even knowing it, is what primarily troubles our unfortunate protagonist in this first episode of Parasyte’s second half (well, that and he’s almost discovered). I’ll be honest: I’m still pretty torn up about Kana dying, even if her death made perfect sense to the story, I had grown fond of her. So had Shinichi, but after that initial burst of fury that destroyed the parasyte that killed her, he’s been emotionally fit as a fiddle.

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His inability to remain pissed off is pissing him off, as contradictory as that sounds, so he heads to the scene of Kana’s death to try to muster up more…grief, or anger, or something. He desperately wants to, not just because it’s what normal humans do, but because he owes it to Kana.

But the private investigator Ryouko hired follows him, and Migi acts on his own on behalf of both him and Shinichi in attempting to kill the witness. Shinichi manages to hold Migi back until he falls asleep, but we learn two things: one, when push comes to shove, Migi can still act alone; and two: Shinichi has had it awfully easy thus far, as far as the risk of exposure.

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Kana aside (look at me, flipping a switch…I’m terrible), if you’re a SatomixShinichi shipper like me, this…was not a great episode in terms of progress. Satomi knows from rumors that Shinichi was with Kana and was the first person to find the body of the high school girl murdered nearby. But she still trusts Shinichi, and is hoping he’ll eventually tell her everything.

But after the incident with the P.I., Shinichi’s so on-edge about being followed or watched, he blows right by a making-an-effort Satomi. God, they’re so frikkin’ doomed.

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When a teacher snaps him out of his somewhat silly ‘what if his class discovered what he truly is’ daydream, Shinichi books it out of there and returns home, where he turns on his super-hearing and eventually senses the P.I., who is in a sling and on a crutch but still doing the job he was paid for. Shinichi wants to explain, but the dude, understandably petrified, flees on sight.

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Yet even this bout of paranoia recedes, far faster than it should. Shinichi is starting to get it: the human being he was is gone, and he’s something else now; something better in some ways and far worse than others. And one of the worse things is being almost utterly emotionally unavailable. To his credit, he meets with Satomi to do what he probably should have done a while ago: cut her loose.

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Satomi takes control of their meeting, however, by saying whatever he’s holding back, or trying to maintain, he can tell her; he can trust her. In his head, Shinichi is a storm, itching to tell her, show her evrything. But then the switch flips, and he won’t tell her anything. He smiles his fake smile and softens his empty gaze, and tells her “Really, it’s nothing.”

He knows she doesn’t believe him. He knows she has no reason to. But in pushing her away, he reveals an emotion he still has in spades, whatever his outward demeanor: fear. He’s afraid of what Migi might do without his leave; of being caught and becoming a lab rat; of being responsible for another friend’s death…and he’s especailly afraid of how Satomi might react if she knew the truth.

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Absolute Duo – 01 (First Impressions)

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Absolute Duo is a by-the-numbers Magic Battle School Coming-of-Age Romantic Adventure genre piece, featuring talented voice work, decent visuals, and the least imaginative script I’ve seen in a long time.

I might go so far as to claim author Takumi Hiiragiboshi is a soulless hack or possibly a robot, only capable of producing quality through its strict adherence to convention and above average production values.

Where Binan Koukou surprised me by being good, Absolute Duo surprised me for being not.

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Our story follows Tōru “Thor” Kokonoe on his first day at Kouryou Academy, an elite high school where students manifest their souls as weapons known as Blazes.

Thor is special because he’s the protagonist and his Blaze can only make a shield. This unique attribute is revealed during the freshman classes’ opening test, where they must defeat the student next to them or be expelled.

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Thor’s specialness (and his name) draw the attention of fellow special freshman Julie Sigtuna, a whitish haired Scandinavian girl who is powerful and demure and, because she sits next to Thor in homeroom, his room mate.

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Several cliched characters are introduced, like the cat-eared homeroom teacher and the child-as-principle who wears black gothic lolita costumes. Likewise, Thor’s tormented past and reason for joining the academy are eluded to before he gives up trying to swap room mates and settles in for an awkward night wear a beautiful girl doesn’t wear clothes and snuggles up to him because: protagonist.

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You’ll enjoy this if: the genre hasn’t burnt you out yet. It’s like Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, except youthier, or Trinity Seven, except with brighter colors and a less overt harem element (though it has notable boob jiggle moments).

More over, Absolute Duo’s visuals and fights are adequate — hopelessly outclassed in this post-SAO/Fate era of mega-budget action anime — but adequate. Likewise, Thor is voiced by Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, who voiced SAO’s Kirito.

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However, you probably won’t find Absolute Duo interesting, because you’ve seen something almost identical to it before. A quiet, well meaning teen male protagonist who’s really good at everything, thrust into an embarrassing parent-free living situation with a girl? Magic/Technology equipped teens battling each other to ‘grow stronger’ and one day undo the details of their tragic back stories?

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A soft spoken white-haired girl who’s quiet focus makes her a fantastic warrior but she’s fascinated by the protagonist because reasons? She even falls asleep in his lap because she got too tired and left him freaking out over the polite thing to do!

Copy. Paste. Rinse. Repeat.

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I expect Thor to swoop in and save the day, Kirito-style on a regular basis and slowly build up a harem along the way. Towards the end, he’ll have a show down with the smirking jerk-sack that killed whoever in his backstory, win, and it will be all good.

Maybe there will be a twist here and there — the villain looks vaguely like the protagonist so could turn out to be a family member or even the protagonist himself — but I’m not holding my breath.

First impression? Obviously not so good.

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Shinmai Maou no Testament – 01 (First Impressions)

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A boy walks in on a buxom girl who’s half naked and changing in an unlocked restaurant unisex bathroom. The girl then becomes his stepsister.

A boy wakes up and his half-dressed stepsister is grinding herself against his crotch, softly moaning for a while and then hits him under false pretexts. Then they fall off the bed on top of each other and are embarrassed. Then his younger other stepsister makes him breakfast in a skimpy outfit and implies he should make a move on her.

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A girl waits for her step brother next to a grocery store around mid-day in an idyllic country setting. However a gang of rape-hungry thugs surround her and prepare to have their way with her. Her step brother saves her by killing a thug with his bicycle and quickly covering their escape with a cloud of recently purchased pepper.

A boy’s father has to go overseas and leaves his teenage son alone with his two step sisters, who immediately turn out to be magical and attack him and the younger of the two turns into a sort-of bondage demon, complete with wings and tail. The other step sister is a demon lord.

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A sexy loli-demon exhibitionist exemplifies bad storytelling through lengthy world-building exposition, while taunting a boy after the credits. Fear not, for he turns out to be a great hero and defeats them!

But it turns out the demon lord is good and he will have to protect her in order for the hero tribe and the demons to find peace!

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Shinmai Maou Testament must be what old people think all anime is like. It’s a ludicrous string of nonsensically sexualized situations with characters we don’t know and, honestly, don’t have any reason to care about.

It is aggressively stupid and not especially attractive nor are any of the characters interesting in any way. Worse, the plot is told at us by characters, as far out of left field as all the sexy antics and almost nothing gets to be experienced in a meaningful way.

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You could like it: if you want a dumb, marginally sexy action flick without any surprises. It’s not especially well-animated but, in all fairness, some of the action comes off with style. At least the scene where the protagonist sheathes his sword/arm and turns away from the girls.

Otherwise… you may appreciate the gender reversal of the demon lord trope? However, since she’s not the protagonist, any twists we’ll get from that reversal are lost to the perspective of not the protagonist.

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As first impressions go, I’m hard pressed to think of a show that’s done worse. Sure, there are some shows that are complete failures but this, even more than Absolute Duo, screams “I am completely average but not even well-executed, technically speaking.”

Good times.

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Steins Gate – 10

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This episode gets off to a rather…ahem…inauspicious start, with Okarin, still convinced Ruka is a guy, does terrible things to her to prove that fact, only to cower in terror at the fact that yup, she is, in point of fact, a girl, then accept whatever off-camera punishment Kurisu arranges for him, because frankly, he’s lucky he gets to keep that hand.

In his defense, Okarin is understandably having increasing difficulty keeping track of all the changes, and while Akiba’s flavor has fundamentally changed, his relationships seem to be pretty much the same, so he must have assumed their genders stayed the same as well.

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It’s not surprising then, for Okarin to take up Suzuha’s offer of a bike ride, even if he’s to do the pedaling: some fresh air will do him good. But instead of clearing his head, it introduces a fresh dilemma which his D-mail technology may be able to solve: Suzuha’s absent father.

His mad scientist schtick is fooling no one: Okarin is a nice guywho will do everything in his power to help his friends, and Suzuha is one of them. So he makes her Member #008 and orders her to come to the lab and text her father not to leave. Sure, her dad may not have had a cell phone back when he left, but maybe he has a pager.

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Suzuha is touched by Okarin’s offer, but departs on her own, in a gorgeously-composed shot that just screams “Sayonara.”

Okarin musters the rest of the lab to arrange a party for Suzuha. He gets a troubling text from an unknown sender saying he’s being watched, with a photo of red jello attached (apparently aware of Okarin’s experience with green jello). But he can’t be troubled too long, since he has a feeling Suzuha won’t come back unless he follows her. Kurisu forbids him to do this, and sends him out to the stores with Mayushii.

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While on the way home, Mayushii reminisces about a time years ago when Okarin had a fever so bad she feared he’d die. She believes her prayers to the sky saved his life (though he gives Steins Gate credit). Is it just me, or are Okarin and Mayushii’s one-on-ones are getting more and more…wistful? It almost feels like she’s trying to remind Okarin how important he is to her, so he’d better not leave her behind.

But it’s more than that: Okarin’s behavior right after Feyris sent her D-mail reminded Mayushii of when he had the fever. Okarin takes that to mean that time he had the fever must have been when his “Reading Steiner” ability first awakened.

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Back in the lab, we get some lovely slice-of-lify dinner prep, with the implication that Kurisu isn’t the best cook despite her scientific genius. It’s fluffy, but it’s good fluff that reminds us how tight-knit a family the Future Gadget Lab has become.

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When futzing some of the lab’s other invented gadgets, the power goes out, which nets us a very intimate exchange between Okarin and Kurisu. It’s as if the darkness has given her cover to say things she wouldn’t say in the light. Again, the camerawork excels, as we get awesome closeups Okarin and Kurisu’s barely lit faces.

When the lights come on we see that for a lot of that time, their faces were merely inches apart, and those shots of them were from their own points of view. For all we know, Kurisu could have been leaning in for a kiss; really nice stuff. Okarin said his relationships have remained the same through all these world lines…but I’d argue that his relationship Kurisu is steadily growing.

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I also find Okarin’s rationale for continuing the D-mail experiments even in the face of all the risks: He’s a mad scientist, dammit, and he’s not going to let Ruka becoming a girl, Akiba ceasing to be an otaku haven, or even threatening red jello texts stop his march to destiny. But really, as I said, he wants to help his friends out, and more to the point, simply wants those friends around, and happy.

To that end, when Suzu is a no-show, he D-mails himself to keep tabs on her, and the next morning learns she attended the party after all. Even though she doesn’t know her dad’s phone number, she had a lot of fun. But what did this latest favor to a friend cost him? The beauty of S;G is that changes need not be immediately apparent; indeed, it’s more fun when they sneak up when least expected.

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