Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 03

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I know, it’s early, but Tokyo Ghoul Root A has the makings of a rare sequel that surpases the original. It’s firing on all cylinders, both in  Ghoul/Dove conflict and in making us feel every inch of agonizing distance between people who were once so close and familiar they used to get on each other’s nerves. So much has changed, but people keep on keeping on with varying degrees of success.

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TG2 has also proven more adept than most shows at juggling a cast that was stupendously huge before all the new intros. It’s mixed things up wonderfully these past two episodes, and made interesting connections and re-connections between disparate characters, lending a sense of community.

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The characters aren’t having a sprawling or blurring effect I want to distance myself from; on the contrary, they’re drawing me in even closer. The conflux of characters in every shade of moral and mental gray, dotted will well-thought-out, punchy action set pieces like the opening attack on the police convoy (which black-and-white one-eyed sisters use to test Ken’s strength), and a script that crackles with poise, all set to a captivating soundtrack, and you see what I mean about all cylinders.

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As “Eyepatch” trashes police convoys and makes it on the news, we’re reminded Touka isn’t the only one he left behind; Hinami has a big-bro-shaped hole in her life now, and can’t help but talk about him, even though Touka rather wouldn’t. The next morning, she’s surprised to find Hinami all dolled up going out by herself (sort of; she has a chaperone) to a Takatsuki Sen book-signing. Hinami doesn’t want Touka to worry about her.

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When Nishiki stops by the cafe, he offers to show Touka Kamii University, where she’s thinking of attending herself. Little things like the fact she won’t stand out by not eating appeal to her, but it isn’t long until Ken’s dumb, innocent staring back at her: a wanted poster; a symbol that he can’t come back even if he wanted to anymore.

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Her heart sinks, but Hideyoshi, who’s been on the periphery of the show so far, steps in to help lift her spirits anyway he can. It’s been a while since these two have seen each other, but just hanging out with someone else who used to be close to Ken, whom she doesn’t have to put a brave face on for (like Hinami) comforts Touka. I particularly love this line by Hide:

“Come to think of it, he once had the lead part in a play! He was surprisingly good, too. He was quite an imposing presence on the stage. Whether it was him playing a part, or him putting on a mask, he always seemed to be saddled with things all unto himself.”

Hinami wanted Touka to reassure her that there must be a good reason Ken left. Hide helps restore a little hope in Touka’s heart that that is indeed the case.

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If Ken is putting on a grudging act, he’s playing a dangerous game, because between B&W and Eto, he still knows very little about his new Aogiri comrades. As for Eto…we finally see her unmasked in the most unexpected place: the book signing Hinami is attending! Turns out she’s the author Takatsuki Sen.

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I picked up on this fact because I recognized Sakamoto Maaya’s voice, and the camera was settling on the lower part of her grinning face, as it did at the end of last week’s episode. To have Eto sign a book she wrote for Hinami as a gift to Ken, the very guy she’s become interested in, is one of those awesome connections that feels both spontaneous and logical.

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Another interesting connection is Hide, whose delivery job affords him access to the CCG station, where he uses his friendly personality to get as much info on the eyepatch case out of Seido as he can (for what purpose I can’t yet fathom) until he’s shut down by a suspicious Akira. Though, to be fair, Akira is suspicious about everyone…but she’s also brilliant, and Natural Police, and Hide better watch himself, because I’m sure she’s watching him from here on out.

Oh yeah, Juuzou is given a new quinque, a huge scythe made from the deceased Jason which he names “Juuzou’s Jason.” Certainly not the most imaginative name, but it’s a frighteningly powerful weapon. Akira and Juuzou are cerebral and physical reminders that the Doves may have taken their licks, but they’re far from toothless in this fight.

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Such is the stength of the case right now, Ken only needs to show up in a couple brief scenes to be effective. Here, we see him take it upon himself to help the late Yamori’s inconsolable underling write the name “Yamori” properly. For some reason I was reminded of when he used to tutor Hinami.

Back at CCG, it’s not Akira who reaches a breakthrough in the case, but Saido (with considerable assistance from Houji). They determine through news reports and such that Eyepatch is Kaneki Ken, a Kamii University student who was injured by falling girders and given organ transplants without his consent from the woman beyond saving he was with at the time of the accident.

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With the Doves now hotter on Ken’s trail than ever, Hide studies the wanted signs he took down on campus, lamenting that Ken is making “such a nice girl worry about him.” But as she lies in bed, a faint smile comes to Touka: Maybe Ken is just out there playing a role, taking the stage and making a big show, for a good reason.

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Whatever that reason, Ken has buried himself in his part. Like last week, we close with them about to start another operation: this time at Cochlea, a ghoul internment center in the 23rd Ward. What fresh devilry—or moral ambiguity—lurks within those  maximum-security ramparts? Where will Ken’s performance lead him next?

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 14

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Tsubaki is in a pinch. At the start of the episode, she’s still in denial about her romantic feelings for Kousei. Case in point: way she watches him race off the moment she tells him Kaori’s in hospital is not the way a ‘big sister’ looks at her ‘little brother’.

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Kousei is also in a pinch. Before Tsubaki told him, he had no idea what had become of her; he doesn’t even have her phone number. He knows a little about her, but there are vast gaps, gaps she won’t fill, preferring to hide behind smiles when anyone can clearly see she’s not well at all. She even goes so far as to stop her I.V. while they’re gone. I do not buy her claim of “simple tests”, no siree.

Neither should Kousei…yet despite the overwhelming evidence before him that history may be about to repeat itself in the form of another loved one leaving him, he chooses to believe Kaori will be back at school and with him in the music room soon.

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Kaori’s brave front is probably so she won’t hurt Kousei and the others, but her sudden death will certainly hurt them even more. In matters of love, Tsubaki is also too scared of losing what she has with Kousei if she tries to go for more. She tries to dull the pain of this ‘limbo’ is causing with Saito, but her past crush was just a crush; she can’t feel anything for him. Yet she keeps strings him along.

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Kaori, Kousei and Tsubaki are all trying to fight back potential or certain, that lies just beyond the horizon, and all are paying a price, both for themselves, and the ones they love. Kaori sees in Kousei’s face the pain her omissions and can’t hold back tears. Kousei clings so tightly to a positive prognosis for Kaori, he’s ignoring Tsubaki at a crucial time in her romantic life, causing her to hurt Saito in turn.

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Kousei and Kaori’s situation is quickly eclipsed this week by a Tsubaki emphasis, the first in a while, and notable in the fact she’s not a musician at all. In fact, the sad dark truth is that she’s always hated music, because it seems to be the one thing always keeping her and Kousei apart. Things are even more complicated now that music has a face, a voice. How can she step over a girl in the hospital to get to Kousei? I understand, but you don’t decide who you love. This isn’t some passing fancy.

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Kashiwagi, whom I swear wasn’t in the first cour more than a few minutes total (if at all…unless she has Stealth Mode like Kato!), and Ryouta are the only two neither hurting nor being hurt. Ryouta seems to have all but ceded Kaori to Kousei seeing their greater connection.

When Kashiwagi tells him about Tsubaki and Kousei and Saito, Ryouta isn’t interested in breaking it to Tsubaki, knowing how bristly she can be. It falls to Kashiwagi, who makes her realize she’s hurting Saito by continuing what is clearly a charade.

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In a nice bit of timing, just when Tsubaki gets off the phone with Kashiwagi, Kousei comes racing to her side on queue, having been told by Ryouta that she was in some kind of trouble. It’s the opposite of what happened at the beginning of the episode, and for the moment, it makes Tsubaki’s day. We watch her following behind, talking and laughing with Kousei, as naturally as she looked forced and out of place beside Saito.

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Here, she doesn’t have to check herself from telling stories about Kousei, because he’s right there, ready to come back with stories about her. Everything that’s happened in the last few months, including Kousei getting back to the piano, made Tsubaki’s feelings shift from those of a doting big sister, to those of a woman in love with a man who got taller than her and whose feet got bigger without her even noticing.

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But as Kashiwagi warned Ryouta, leaving her to realize it for herself, here and now, turns out to be too late…though not by much! Ironically, it’s when Tsubaki echoes Kaori’s words about Kousei being a rare and special artist capable of transcribing his very memories to notes, that Kousei lets her know he’s planning to go to a high school with a musical course, out of town, thus separating them for the first time…ever.

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Tsubaki can’t hold back tears any more than Kaori could, and runs off into the night, still barefoot from the beach where just a couple minutes ago she was on cloud nine, humming “Claire de Lune” along with him (having heard it so much next door). Now alone, her feelings for Tsubaki sink in fully, along with the bitter realization that music has once again taken her Kousei away from her….perhaps this time for good.

The question is, will she let it? And will Kousei let Kaori go quietly into the night?

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Death Parade – 03

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Death Parade may face a unique challenge, by anime standards. I really can’t think of another show that is this well styled (excellent design, decent action but not much of it) creative, and technically well executed… that is also this ho-hum to watch?

I suspect that the double micro-mystery-per-episode, which first poses the question ‘who are these people’ and then ‘what will their fate be’ limits its potential. Honestly, since we know DP is asking us to solve these two questions each week (or every other week) we’re too tuned in. Too aware for it to surprise us with its legitimately well constructed twists.

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This week, Miura Shigeru wake up near the bar with the normal haze of partial memory. However, “the girl” at the bar has no memories at all. Not even her name and, even though Shigeru’s flash backs paint her as a childhood friend, something obviously went down that brought them here together and that something was probably tragic.

And this week that something will be revealed via bowling.

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So they bowel with each other’s hearts. This causes no pain, though they can sense each other’s heart rate, which eludes to mood and hidden feelings.

Shadow is also there, more actively helping Dequim. She doesn’t really know what’s going on and isn’t especially active in the episode but she and Dequim both are surprised when Shigeru turns out to be an awesome guy upon realizing he is dead — and still asking his partner out on one last date.

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See, (!!Spoilers!!) his partner really was a childhood friend. Just not the one he thought. Rather, this was ‘plain-jane’ Takada Mai, who he had fun playing with but never had feelings for, who’s always wanted his attention.

Understanding this all with clarity, they finally come together, have a good time, and are both reincarnated if the masks above their respective elevators are to be believed. (!!end Spoilers!!)

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It’s not fair to say ‘happy endings’ would always work better in Death Parade but this story just felt more enjoyable than the ‘drool and tears’ story we started with. These people were both good and still are after death and the game was just an interesting way of revealing secrets to them. Not just a torturous way to punish their last moment.

Obviously the juxtaposition between happy ending and grim death game-playing-bar is a solid idea but I fully understand doing this each week would be equally predictable.

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Verdict: I almost gave Death Parade an 8 again but shied away at the last minute for the same reasons as I did in episode 1. It’s generally a very good looking show, has a strong control over its mood and tone, but it’s just so one note.

Sorry guys — I really don’t hate this show. I’m just really not that enthusiastic either?

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Steins Gate – 14

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As expected, Rintarou can’t stop Mayuri from getting killed. Either Moeka and her goons, or what he can only describe as ‘fate’ always gets her in the end. The show doesn’t get too gorey about the myriad ways Mayuri meets her end (though the sight of a Jelly Mayuri, half-stuck in the wall, possibly in the 18th century, is properly disturbing), but it gets the point across efficiently: Rintarou’s plan isn’t going to work. He’s missing a big piece of the puzzle.

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Not only that, but he simply can’t go on like this. I opined last week that even if using the time leap machine over and over had no major physical side effects, the trauma of watching Mayuri die over and over would eventually drive him mad. To his credit, he breaks the futile cycle of attempting to save Mayuri on his own before that happens.

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Or to be more precise, it’s Kurisu who breaks the cycle, by noticing something is not right with her friend and finally coaxing an explanation out of him, during which he even calls her by her real name.

I must add, this is Kurisu at her absolute best, and also the point at which she’s almost switched roles with Rintarou. Where before he was the wide-eyed dreamer, those time leaps have worn him down. Kurisu sees that, and decides to be the voice of hope and faith when she can tell he’s running low on both. She even strikes a baller chuuni pose that even gets him to crack a smile.

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When she smiles back and offers her hand. In a nifty bit of animation, Rintarou hesitates in taking it, but she gently tugs at his hand and guides it into her own. There’s so much in that simple gesture, which makes it all the more sad when she sets up the time leap machine and sends him back.

It’s sad because the awesome Kurisu she is now, who Rintarou calls “Kurisu” and proudly brags about her invention, will cease to be. Then again, this is nothing new; countless wonderful moments between these two have already vanished from time, both before and during Rintarou’s failed attempts to save Mayuri.

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When Rintarou is sent five hours back–to the time Mayuri finished her cosplay outfit around the same time Kurisu finished the machine–past Kurisu is a little harder to convince than future Kurisu told him she’d be. But when he repeats the keyphrase she gave him about “My Fork”, something very private and embarrassing, she’s on board too. Good. With Kurisu by his side, they’re much more likely to figure this out.

Also, “Screw you, future me” is one hell of a one-liner.

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Kurisu warns Rintarou that failing to build the time machine alone may not be what is causing Mayuri’s deaths. Suzuha joins them, actually backs up her “nemesis”, and sneaks them into the Radio Kaikan building where the satellite crashed.

A sprawling but surprisingly gripping infodump ensues, replete with visual aids like braided ropes (along with her own braids) and a divergence meter made from Nixie tubes she says Rintarou himself will build in the future (thus explaining those numbers we see whenever he leaps. I kept thinking about writing them down, but didn’t).

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I’m not a fan of infodumps, but I, like Rintarou, have thirsted for answers (some answers…not all) for so long I welcomed the explanations, even as I wondered who the hell this crazy-athletic, all-knowing girl really is. We learn that, too: SHE is ‘John Titor’, from the year 2036, and the crashed satellite is her time machine.

I was impressed with how swiftly the story has moved from Rintarou realizing his plan to save Mayuri on his own is a dead-end, to teaming up with Kurisu and growing a little closer, to Suzuha finally revealing who and what she is and introducing a new time machine that could expand their reach across the time continuum. Rintarou may be the one who saves the world, according to Titor, but he’s going to need a lot of help from his friends.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 02

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Aki Tomoya is in a tough spot. He finds himself at a cafe with the girl who inspired him to finally start his grand dream of creating the ultimate dating sim, but while just about everything about Kato Megumi is perfectly fine, he is confounded by her utter lack of presence. The camera continues to be shy with her, focusing on just about anything but her, while her seiyu Yasuno Kiyono gives her a soft, measured wisp of a voice.

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Kato is utterly unremarkable, but so utterly unremarkable that an incredulous Tomoya simply can’t stop obsessing about her. But while she doesn’t have braids, glasses, or freckles like Tomoya’s fantasy, what’s so great about Kato’s character is that she’s really not as “normal” as Tomoya deems her to be; otherwise, she wouldn’t react so calmly to his many outbursts at the cafe. Dare I call her…meta-moe? Para-moe? A more attractive Ann Veal?

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Kato even assumes Tomoya is dating Eriri or Utaha (or both), since she sees them both through the window, looking none too pleased. They’re even more outraged to find that Tomoya ditched them for someone so…Her. This is the circle (sans Tomoya’s cousin) together for the first timebut neither of the two school beauties can behave themselves in front of Kato, and start leg-sparring under the table.

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In other words, she fades away and lets the louder girls take over the scene, to the point where she disappears completely without them (or me) even noticing, demonstrating her Stealth Mode for the first time. By golly, that girl can get lost in a crowd! And she didn’t even leave out of disgust; she just wanted another drink! Nothing fazes her!

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Still, as awesome as you and I already know Kato to be, Tomoya is still under the misguided impression he needs to “fix” her by imbuing her with moe conventions. The next day, a Saturday, he invites her to his house for “Dating Sim Heroine Boot Camp,” apparently completely unaware what he has on his hands here is a relationship with a 3D girl in the works. Naturally, Kato agrees to come without any reservations.

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Kato is further unflustered by being in a notorious otaku’s room (it’s exactly what she expected) and dutifully plays a dating sim he highly recommends all the way through while enduring his constant spoilers and commentary. That means they’re alone together in his room all day long. It’s astonishing how quickly time passes, and yet the amount of fun they’re both having simply hanging out together doing not much of anything is clear to see.

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Fueled by the fun he’s already had and the complete passivity Kato has exhibited (albeit a passivity laced with quick, sharp deadpan retorts), Tomoya decides to be a little adventurous and see just how far that passivity goes, by asking her to spend the night and play the sequel to the game she just finished.

His proposal, complete with him eliminating any need to worry about the ramifications (there’s no school tomorrow, his parents are out) plays both like an innocent request to keep hanging out, and something a little more adult. Kato, of course, is fine with whatever, though we do see her finally blush at Tomoya’s choice of words.

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Of course she is. Nothing fazes her. Perhaps that’s because, well, she simply likes Tomoya. Tomoya clearly likes her too. What Kato is, then is a very “boring” girlfriend in the making, but a damn good one, too. His night with her gives him the clarity and inspiration to know precisely what to tell Eriri and Utaha what he envisions for the game, next time he sees them. More importantly, gets a sleep-deprived Kato (and the change in her voice in this state is priceless) to agree to join his circle.

I foresee big, exciting things on the horizon for the game, for the relationship, and for this show, which, a prologue and two episodes in, has been above reproach. Kato may not stand out in any conventional way, but so far she’s the shining light bringing warmth to my Winter.

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Stray Observations:

  • I don’t want to understate just how well the show kept things interesting through character and dialogue in the most humdrum settings: a cafe and a bedroom.
  • n ongoing joke is the fact Tomoya is constantly acting like he’s just met Kato, while he’s actually known her more than a year.
  • Depsite his low opinion of himself, her opinion of him is quite high, naming him one of the school’s three celebrities, along with Eriri and Utaha.
  • One of the reasons for his popularity is the fact he screens anime at school…and we see that anime includes the prologue of the very show they’re in! Nice.

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  • Tomoya’s “Fantasy Kato”, who acts in all the ways he expects an ideal dating sim heroine to act, is also a nice cutaway touch.
  • Kato isn’t just a great character in her own right, but a symbol of the show’s raison d’etre, presenting all the conventions but subverting them wherever they can. It’s immensely refreshing
  • Throughout her long Saturday with Tomoya, Kato starts occupying more and more real estate in the frame until she’s sharing pretty much equal space with her host, and gets a lot more close-ups.