Assassination Classroom – 02

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Two episodes in, and I regret to report that AC just isn’t my cup of tea. This time, I followed Nagisa’s lead and took notes, listing the pros and cons as the show exhibited them. I came to the general conclusion that while show looks great and has its moments, too often it either feels tonally confused or overly sincere. It’s also too cloying, and a little too self-aware and proud of itself.

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It starts with an unironically cheesy OP that deflates world-and-pride-saving stakes that we’ve never been able to buy. As sensitive and detail-oriented as Koro-sensei is (and do love how he can travel to the ends of the earth on a whim), his desire to destroy the world makes no sense, and not of the ‘Haha, that’s so kooky!’ kind, but a willfully abstruce kind.

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The episode is peppered with silly situations and jokes, but many simply clank to the ground in failure, undermining the ones that hit. I personally don’t mind that Nagisa is a boy despite looking and sounding nothing like one in the traditional anime sense; it’s his tired narration and both his and the show’s tendency to repeat itself that grates. Yes, I understand, you’re killers whose target is a teacher. Except he’s a yellow monster and thus engenders zero sympathy.

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The class seems poised to go through a Wile E. Coyote-style process for attempting to assassinate Koro: try something once, and when it fails, never try again. But unlike Mr. Coyote’s target, Koro uses the attempt as an excuse to help the baseball kid adjust his mechanics to better suit his body type. This kid, like everyone in Class E, all have innate talents that Koro will likely help them identify and cultivate

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That brings us to the plight of Class E, the “End Class”, a relatively small group of students who are exiled to the dingy satellite campus and treated like dirt in order to make the majority of students work harder, as well as pump up their own collective sense of superiority. This is not that far off from the way this works in the real world; privileged kids are warned that if they don’t work hard and excel, they’ll end up in some crap school and get a crap job and live crap lives.

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This social commentary baked into this show is not entirely without promise, but in such an otherwise zany and irreverent setting and such a blatantly nonsensical premise, that serious stuff only contributes to the show’s confused tone and ‘kitchen sink’ approach to storytelling. Nagisa’s narrated analysis of Koro and some cheesy guitar music don’t change the fact that I can’t care about a silly yellow tentacle monster.

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There was once sequence I enjoyed despite these flaws, however: after failing to pile on top of Koro and stab him to death, Koro decides to be clever and replace all of their “anti-me” knives with tulips. Only problem is, those were tulips they all worked hard to plant and nuture.

Realizing his mistake, he blasts off at Mach 20 to procure more bulbs and proceeds to plant them, not at Mach 20, because he’s under the watchful gaze of the angered students. It’s a nice reversal of dominance.

But then I realize…what the hell does he care about planting tulips or telling the baseball kid to “train well and surpass his idol” when he’s going to destroy the world? A couple students jokingly point out this contradiction, but that doesn’t allay my frustration. Even if Koro had a proper human form, his actions and motivations are as muddled as the show’s tone.

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More than anything though, the periodic Nagisa narration, as well many of the students’ reactions to Koro, are simply trying too hard, constantly rubbing our noses in its somewhat-forced ‘craziness’, shouting “OMG, we have to kill our teacher, isn’t this so deliciously loony? Well, isn’t it?!”

Actually, no, it isn’t, at least not satisfyingly so. It’s a jumbled mess of tones and themes, over-stuffed with anonymous characters. It’s a show that wants so badly to be so many different things—and never lets you forget it—but its visual polish and genuine enthusiasm can’t mask its inherent gutlessness.

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Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 02

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This week’s Ghoul was smart, introspective, and robust. The most action we saw happened in the cold open, where a young Mado Kureo and his fellow Doves battle the Owl ten years ago, and we got a little bit of Ken running around. If this episode wanted to remind us that Ghoul is not merely about the Ghoul-on-Dove action, it succeeded, surpassing its season opener in mood and immersion.

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The CCG brass are licking their wounds as more wounds are being inflicted: Marude’s incompetence in the 11th ward lead to an unacceptable loss of manpower and equipment, and as a result, Aogiri Tree, with their new eyepatched captain, have been able to easily overrun the 9th and 10th wards as well. Their backs are against a wall, but no one is panicking, and they make the capture or destruction of the Owl their top priority.

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We do cut back to Touka now and again, and while she’s maintaining at school and planning to apply for the same college as Nishiki, every shot of her is tinged with melancholy. She had become accustomed to Ken and his absence notable. Moreover, his activities with Aogiri Tree are stirring up even more anti-Ghoul sentiment than usual, making for a distinctly more uncomfortable school life.

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Back to the Dove side, where we check in with Amon Koutarou, recently promoted to senior investigator. While visiting Kureo’s gave, he comes upon Mado’s daughter, Akira (voiced by Seto Asami of Chihayafuru), who happens to have been assigned as Koutarou’s new partner. Harking back to the flashback cold open, this Ghoul/Dove conflict has been going on long enough to become a family business of sorts. Akira has decided to follow in her father’s footsteps, and no explanation is really necessary for why.

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Ghoul doubles down on the Dove focus by placing us in the middle of the 20th Ward office, led by Shinohara and staffed by Koutarou, Houji, Akira, Juuzou, and Seidou. Seidou is the kind of character who might be a protagonist in a lesser show; here he butts heads with Akira, as he came up second to her in the academy. A simple way of comparing their worldview unfolds as Akira warmly compliments Juuzou on the same stitches that creep Seidou out.

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Akira is a brilliant, efficient, hungry investigator, who quickly impresses her superiors with her (correct) theory that the 20th Ward has been regulated for some time. She also unilaterally does away with classic decorum, explaining to Koutarou precisely how much time is wasted per year voicing all the extra syllables such formalities demand. Amon could have told her in all the time she took to explain herself, she could have managed a simple “Yes, Sir”…but gives her the win, knowing she’s truly her father’s daughter.

Shinohara tries to get Amon, new to seniority, to ask Akira out to dinner to break the ice. Akira turns him down instantly, but not out of dislike, but because she simply doesn’t eat after 9:00 PM as a rule. So there are rules Akira breaks and those she doesn’t. She was intriguing enough knowing who her father was, but I’m looking forward to watching “Amon/Mado Mark II” get along.

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After saying goodbye to her friend Yoriko (whom I imagine could become a victim of the present war at some point), Touka again appears distracted and unsure of what to do next, even though she technically has a plan and motions to go through.

Meanwhile, in some dark Aogiri hideout, having shed so much, Ken still makes himself a decent cup of coffee. Is this a force of habit, or a conscious effort to maintain the slightest tie to his past life at the cafe?

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Either way, as tasty as that coffee might be, Ken seems just as miserable as Touka, and can only get one sip in before Touka’s brother summons him for an op.

The Anteiku gang celebrates the re-opening of the cafe after all that unpleasantness, but Touka is only half-involved with the festivities. The other half is fixed on the night outside, where Ken is up to no good.

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Ken seems to have gained some admirers within Aogiri, from black-and-white twins to the mummy-bandaged Eto, who runs off to her quarters to remove the bandages and reveal a normal, healthy-looking young woman, or at least the lower part of her face. Her demeanor suggests she’s excited about the possibilities of having Ken on her side.

While Ghoul did not go into details about those possibilities regarding Ken specifically, they did show a confident Aogiri Tree on the march, a CCG scrambling to mount a defense, and an Anteiku trying to survive and maintain normalcy. Most impressively, I find myself neither able nor willing to pick one ‘good’ guy and one ‘bad’, as all factions are compelling and possess legitimate motivations.

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Steins Gate – 13

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How to follow up a cliffhanger that belongs in the pantheon of cliffhangers (along with “Mr. Worf, Fire” and “Boomer Shoots Adama”)? The same way those were followed up: by dropping us right back into the same moment it left us; in this case, with Moeka shooting Mayuri in the head. Moeka is aiming at Rintarou when Suzuha bursts back into the lab and takes out all of the other gunmen.

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She left to go turn on the 42″ CRT downstairs, and then returns to buy Rintarou and Kurisu just enough time to activate the time leaping machine, during which Kurisu too is shot right in front of Rintarou. Right after Steins;Gate’s best ending to date, we get its best cold open. The adrenaline was pumping from start to finish, even though I was reasonably certain Rintarou would get away.

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He ends up in the memory of the cemetery where Mayuri is looking up at a grave, and we learn the significance of that memory. The grave is Mayuri’s grandmother’s, and she’d visit it every day. One day, Rintarou watched as she became bathed in Rembrandt Lighting he feared would lift her up and away, so he ran to her, embraced her, and told her she can’t go anywhere, because she’s his “hostage” now.

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The cemetery is only a temporary stop, however, as Rintarou wakes up just before 5:00 PM the same evening Mayuri gets killed. Without stopping to explain anything, he cancels the party and runs out to look for Mayuri.

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Of course, Kurisu, being a genius, figures out pretty quickly that Rintarou used the time leap machine, it worked, and now has memories of the, or rather a future. But he’s in too much of a hurry and can only promise to tell everyone everything later, even Mayuri herself; his curtness frightens her. Of course, considering he just watched her die, I can’t expect him to have acted any more calmly.

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It’s that emotional trauma he carries that makes him slip up, realizing too late the trains were stopped by a bomb threat, likely for this purpose. The Mad Scientist finally has The Organization after him, and always seems to be one step ahead. A chase, a take-down, and Rintarou and Mayuri separate. He tells her to run, and she does, right into an alley where a waiting car runs her over.

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Rintarou is close to home, so he’s able to use the time leap machine again, but at this point I’m starting to think about Waremete, a Fall 2014 show I watched but left the reviewing duties to Zane. Turns out the visual novel it’s based upon was released a year after Steins;Gate. 

Here, as in WareMete, a protagonist tries multiple times to save someone, but no matter how they change the events of the day that someone dies, the person always finds a way to die, as if the timeline is attempting to balance itself. That’s what seems to be happening here.

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I say that because the first two times Mayuri is killed, it’s due to SERN’s actions, but SERN couldn’t have made Nae run up to Mayuri, trip, and accidentally shove her onto the subway track. That’s not outside interference; that’s…something else. Breaking the pattern of Mayuri’s deaths isn’t as simple as isolating her. Maybe it’s the watch?

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And then, there’s the possibility that Mayuri simply can’t be saved, no matter how many times Rintarou is able to go back. Pair that with the fact the trauma of watching her die is cumulative, and it won’t be long before Rintarou is simply too emotionally broken to have the necessary wits about him, which is all the more reason to tell the others what’s going on.

It all comes back to the cemetery memory. Was Rintarou only reacting to the strange light, or was there really something to his fear Mayuri was about to disappear? When he embraced her, was he only delaying the inevitable? SERN and time seem to be conspiring against him, and he is in way over his head.

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S;G reviews are back!…but only once a week.

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 13

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Kousei achieved many victories this week: victory over his own inability to hear the notes, which Hiroko surmised might actually be a gift; success in making the crowd not only hear but feel him, as his peers had done before; and most importantly, saying goodbye to his mother by playing the song she once played for him as a lullaby.

After a rough start during which he’s mostly just pissed about Miike badmouthing Kaori, he sounds great. So why did this episode that had so much Win still feel like it had a dark pall cast over it? Simple: Kousei grows and moves forward through the persistent experience of sorrow. And as good as his performance is, the fact remains, Kaori is nowhere to be seen, and that’s a constant concern.

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We know what motivated Takeshi and Emi: Kousei. We can also deduce that Kaori is driven by the desire to play as much and as hard as she can in the little time she has left on this world. But Kousei derives his strength not from idolization or urgency, but form suffering. It’s something Hiroko comes to realize as she listens to Kousei play.

She also reveals that it was she who persuaded his mother Saki to teach him to be a pianist. As Saki grew more ill, she too felt an increasing sense of urgency and desperation that turned her into an abusive wretch. Ironically, it was her love and intense worry for Kousei’s future without her that led to that transformation.

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Ultimately, it wasn’t just Saki’s death that pushed Kousei forward; it was Saki dying after Kousei told her she should die, and all the psychological damage and long dormant period that led to it. He was broken down to virtually nothing, so that someone like Kaori could enter his life and put him back together piece by piece.

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This is a performance episode, and the performance is suitably awesome. I mentioned Kousei starts off rough (more crude than ferocious, Ochiai tsks), but once he realizes he can hear the music within him, particularly the way his mother used to play, he suddenly shifts to that style, a flowerly, highly technical yet gorgeous style that enthralls the audience, friend and stranger alike.

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EMI’S FIRED UP. So were we. Kousei comes into his own, even without Kaori there to support him. I for one hope Emi gets to interact more with Kousei, either musically or personally, because Emi is great.

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For Kousei, it’s one of the more emotionally taxing performances of the series, to the point that after finishing, bowing to an audience stunned into silence until it gradually remembers to applaud, Kousei’s knees give out off-stage, and after receiving a direct hit from a Koharu Missile, is embraced by Hiroko and lets it all out. His performance was brilliant, but anyone, musically trained or no, could sense the pain and longing that fueled it.

Hell, even the punk kid Miike was so moved, his performance softened into something more to please his own mother than to knock the crowd’s socks off or mark his territory.

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As he exits the hall, Tsubaki starts to approach Kousei, but finds herself unable to speak or act normally around him. Her heart beats extremely loudly and when Kousei acknowledges her and expresses his hope she’d praise him, she can barely hold back tears, be they of relief or disappointment.

Whatever the tears were really for, it’s clear Tsubaki is as in love with Kousei as ever, and this performance only amplified those feelings, as proud and relieved as she is by his victory.

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But back to sorrow: Kousei can’t catch a break. No surprise; Kaori was a no-show because she was hospitalized. When Kousei rushes to the hospital and sees her, she doesn’t look well at all, bandaged and pale; her smile fooling no one. Interspersed with this heartbreaking reunion that makes it painfully apparent Kousei is likely about to watch another woman he loves wither away and die before him, Hiroko suspects, despairingly, that this may simply be the life the universe has chosen for Arima Kousei, Musician.

Without loss, grief and sorrow, Arima Kousei, Musician would not exist. I can’t help but look forward to what looks like the very near future in which Kaori is no more, how Kousei will deal, and who if anyone could step in to fill that new gaping hole in his heart. Yes, as much as I love Kaori, the fact that her imminent demise is such a foregone conclusion means she may be holding Kousei back, along with the show itself.

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