Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 03

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Nanami arrives at the Divine Assembly and actually stands her ground against the War God, who then threatens to kill her, until the host, bishonen Lord Okuninushi, intervenes, and sets Nanami on her next adventure immediately.

That’s right, just when we thought we were going to get into the nitty-gritty of divine politics (or at least partying), Nanami is sent off on a mission no other god has the nose for. Nanami seems to get that Okuninushi is almost looking down on her by offering this job, but she accepts it anyway, in exchange for his assistance in locating Mikage. I guess she’s learning the politics after all!

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The job involves clearing out the yokai who take advantage of the mass god absence to stir up trouble around Yomotsu Hirasaka, the entrance to the Netherworld. Kirihito (the wan lad Nanami met in the park) happens to be there, strong-arming some lesser yokai small fry into doing his bidding, when he’s shoved into the entrance, which is bad, since humans start to decay as soon as they near the gate, let along pass through it.

Nanami, believing him a victim of the yokai, plunges in and saves him, reasonably confident that she’ll survive since she’s a human god…but really having no idea what will happen. But that’s Nanami: quick to risk her life for a stranger.

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Meanwhile, Tomoe is utterly depresed and lonely with Nanami gone, and decides to drown his sorrows in sake at the local tanuki brothel. That’s right, I said tanuki brothel. Where else would a fox go to get into a little straaange?

Just one casual rumor by one of the girls sets a Dark Tomoe backstory into motion, as their madam once apprenticed at another brothel where Tomoe and his traveling companion Akura-oh once paid a visit.

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Akura-oh arrived first…and then slaughtered everyone there. The madam, only a child, managed to escape outside, where Tomoe found her and deigned to let her go. It was an act of kindness she never forgot…even though it was six centuries ago.

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To repay him for that kindness, the girl (named Mizutama) who would become the madam often kept Tomoe company, including the two decades between Mikage leaving and Nanami appearing. What Mizutama is, then, is the woman where Tomoe sought comfort and companionship in between masters.

It’s sudden trips off the main road like this that really add a vibrancy and warmth to this world, warmth Tomoe also found with Mikage, Mizutama, and now Nanami.

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The fact that a Nanami recalls him to the shrine in a dream turns out to be merely Kotetsu in Nanami cosplay, and the school P.A. announcement-like (complete with chime!) letter from Nanami tug Tomoe roughly back into the here and now.

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Back in the Netherworld, it takes a full sixty seconds before Nanami’s about to eat a dumpling offered by yokai that would keep her from ever leaving. Fortunately for her Kirihito knows the ways of this place…though she can’t fathom how, considering he’s a human who shouldn’t even be alive here.

The shots above show the pure variety of ways Nanami is drawn depending on the situation. I must say I’ve really missed her expressiveness and spunk.

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Of course, I’ve also kinda figured out that Kirihito is really Akura-oh in a human body. I don’t think it was meant to be hard to figure out, as among other similarities, both are voiced by Suwabe Junichi. But while I know Nanami can take care of herself in a pinch, I would still feel much better when she’s out of that creepy Netherworld and no longer along with this sketchy guy!

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Yoru no Yatterman – 03

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It’s make or break for Yoru no Yatterman this week and, for the most part, it succeeded. However, “Yatterman Nights” remains a deeply strange show to watch, as again there were details I didn’t understand, it has a slow pace, and even at 1080p it has a certain… ugliness to its beauty.

I can excuse all of that though, because this week’s nods to the past were either less esoteric or less complicated to surmise. In a nutshell, I understood more of what is going on and, thusly, it held my attention all the way through.

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To sum up: team Doronbo meets Alouette, an immensely kind girl who is nearly blind and has a nagging resemblance to Leopard’s mother. While uncomfortable lying to her, Miss Doronjo agrees with Boyaki that not correcting Allouette about being angels is acceptably grey for her ethics and probably necessary to survive the night.

The situation becomes more complex when Galina, Allouette’s friend and of-so-blind protector shows up. However, he quickly shows that he has no love for Yattermen, and is willing to let the roll of a D6 determine if he will reveal their presence or not.

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As luck would have it, he keeps quiet and a showdown is avoided. This scene is especially quirky, as it reveals the Yatterman’s dance-like salute (which is adorably weird) and makes it very unclear if the ‘Robots’ that Doronbo blew up last week were actually people in masks… which is a little disconcerting.

It also results in Doronbo’s costumes being destroyed to keep them hidden but, in a fairly obvious twist, Galina sews them new (and far superior costumes in thanks.

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See ‘Gatchan’ and ‘Ally’ have a beef with Yatterman too. It’s a big one, and it involved the death of their parents and family dog. Owing to the fact that Ally is older than Leopard, I’m not entirely sold on Gatchan’s story.

Rather, I’m sold on his story but confident the show will throw a sisters-twist in there eventually. Regardless, it’s compelling and ties the group together so that, when Yattermen return the following day, the battle goes in Doronbo’s favor this time.

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What worked really well: the reto-nods were more natural, Gatchan’s development with room for future betrayals, and the focus on Yatterman’s capital as a destination all gave the show a stronger focus and a better core for the weirdness to orbit around.

I especially enjoyed the robot-or-not Yattermen banter, which presents a deeply twisted take on the ‘filler’ baddies common to these shows. ‘Why don’t you try shooting it first’ paints them as more then mindless minions. At least, until they are all destroyed (or killed?) in Doronbo’s massive explosion.

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What still doesn’t work: This is, of course, subjective and a bit technical but Yatterman Nights is rather ugly. The color is intentionally desaturated, which makes everything muddy, and lack visual impact but, on top of that, a post-process filter has been applied to the line art, which results in ‘unclean’ edge to color fields and outlines, even when viewed at full 1080p.

It is obviously intentional but, when a show like Rolling Girls is playing with similar themes but is so much more vibrant and ‘fun’ to watch, it’s hard not to feel that YnY is missing something.

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Verdict: I maintain that Yatterman Nights goes a bit too far for art’s sake — Academic / High Art — and that results in a less exciting, less stunning show for us to watch. However, now that it has a near-term goal to focus on, I’m finding it much more satisfying to watch.

This definitely was the push it needed to edge past Binan Koukou for next week’s elimination round but, only time will tell if it can maintain that focus (or if I can survive such a drably colored show) for the remained of the season

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion

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I’ve always been more a fan of continuations than re-tellings or re-imaginings, so among the three Madoka movies, this was the one that I anticipated the most. I only skimmed through the first two, which were only recaps of a show I finished watching over four years ago, but which remains burned in my brain as one of my all-time favorites. Heck, Sayaka is my avatar.

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I also recently dropped Sailor Moon Crystal, because a straightforward magical girl tale just never appealed to me as much as a subversion or deconstruction of same, which Madoka is. With Rebellion, the recaps are over, and I finally get to see what happened after Madoka sacrificed her very existence in order to save Homura and her friends. And I have to say, I liked what I saw.

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After Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, and Kyouko dispatch a “nightmare,” Rebellion begins as if a reset button had been pressed. Madoka awakes and goes through the same morning motions as she does in the first episode of the tv show. Then a twin-braided, bespectacled, friendly and cheerful Akemi Homura transfers in, befriends Madoka and the others, and soon joins them in their periodic nightmare battles.

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Even when their classmate Shizuki turns into a nightmare, they’re able to change her back into a normal human without any harm done. This is an ideal world in which everything is too good to be true. Ironically, it’s a world I, as someone who wants these girls to simply be able to enjoy such a life without further hardship, don’t have that big a problem with! Everyone’s alive; everyone’s friends; everyone is working together; and there seem to be no consequences to being magical girls.

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Homura goes through enough of this that she eventually begins to suspect something is very wrong, as memories of past worlds she inhabited begin to surface. In this way, the movie starts with the “Happily Ever After.” But Homura’s returning memories, vague as they are, become a splinter in her mind she cannot ignore, so both the Happy and the Ever After eventually fade for her.

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Homura takes Sakura with her to the town where Sakura says she used to live, yet doesn’t remember much about it. Yet no matter how many times hey take the bus or even walk, they can’t seem to leave Mitakihara City; as if there’s nothing beyond it. In a movie full of memorable sequences, this entire surreal journey to nowhere is particularly goosebump-inducing, with sound and image in perfect strange harmony.

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This leads Homura to believe this is a false city where she and the others are being imprisoned. She suspects Bebe, Mami’s familiar whom we’ve never seen before, of being a witch, but Mami, having no idea what’s going on, intervenes and threatens punishment if Homura hurts Bebe. But Homura isn’t about to let the mastermind behind this plot go.

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That can only mean one thing: Mami and Homura square off with lots and lots of guns and acrobatics in what I’d describe as one of the best one-on-one battle sequences in the Madoka franchise. It wasn’t just the speed and complexity of the battle that excited, but all the twists and turns it took, from Homura threatening to shoot herself in the head, causing Mami to drop her guard so she can shoot her in the leg, only for her target to be a decoy Mami set up. All because these two girls couldn’t talk it out and let tempers flare.

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Sayaka flies in frees Homura from Mami’s custody, while a Bebe in human form comes to explain things to Mami. When they’re alone, Sayaka asks Homura why things can’t just stay the way they are if everyone’s happy. But her knowledge that something isn’t right is proof that while this is the “real” Sayaka, she’s more than just a magical girl now.

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Later that night, Madoka finds Homura drifting in a canal boat (another gorgeous, lyrical sequence), and they discuss what’s eating her: that being the thought that nothing here is real and there was another time when she lost Madoka and tried desperately to bring her back. Madoka assures her those were all just bad dreams; they’re together here and now, that’s all that matters.

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Homura is convinced this Madoka is the real one too, but she wants to test one last thing: whether she herself is even a magical girl. She does this by tossing away her soul gem and traveling past the maximum distance she can be from it (a tried and true method from the original show). When nothing happens, she knows things aren’t right in the world. Then that world starts to deteriorate around her, and the reality descends upon her that she is a witch, and this false city is a construct of her own making.

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The world around her starts to deteriorate, as the reality descends upon her that she is a witch, and this is false city is a construct of her own making. Then Kyuubey shows up and starts talking. More precisely, Homura is a magical girl on the cusp of becoming a witch, due to the despair of losing Madoka and being the only one who remembers her. The Incubators placed her in an isolated space as an experiment to lure the godlike Madoka, the “The Law of Cycles”, whom they hoped to control in order to maximize the energy they can harvest from magical girls becoming witches.

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When Madoka came to where Homura was, she lost the memory of her duty and powers as the Law of Cycles, and became trapped in the false city along with her two assistants, Sayaka and Bebe. While this sounds a little convoluted on paper, in practice it’s perfectly consistent with vulnerability of the damaged Homura the TV show (and previous movie) ended with, and the cold opportunism of the Incubators.

It also makes sense that Homura would choose to complete her witch transformation at the cost of her own soul, in order to keep the Incubators from screwing with Madoka anymore. Because it’s not a self-preserving move, it’s a move they don’t see coming. But the other magical girls arrive and go against her wishes, freeing her from the false city and find her real body in a desolate wasteland.

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It’s a move that restores Madoka’s memories and powers as Law of Cycles back, but at a price: Madoka is once again exposed to the Incubator’s meddling, not to mention the still-alive Homura’s own desires. When she descends upon Homura to clear her soul gem of despair, Homura grabs her and releases the contents of the gem, which isn’t despair, but love, the ‘most powerful of emotions’ and the one Kyuubey is least equipped to understand. This is Homura following through on her promise never to let Madoka go, having been given an opportunity she didn’t ask for, but did hope for.

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Things get more and more out of hand from there, with Homura suppressing Madoka’s godlike powers and transforming into a kind of Anti-Law of Cycles, calling herself a “demon” in contrast to Madoka’s angel-like form. With her new powers, she rewrites the laws of the universe just as Madoka once had, only this time both of them are alive and well in a real world, not a mere illusion caused by the experimentation of the Incubators.

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In this new world, Madoka is the transfer student rather than Homura, and sports a yellow ribbon rather than red, which Homura sports instead. Homura still has all her memories of what went on in the previous universes, and it shows on her universe-weary, glasses-less face. Her love for Madoka is a twisted, possessive love now, borne from pressing countless reset buttons and literally going to hell and back.

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So, all’s well that ends well, right? Well…no. This is Madoka we’re talking about. Homura merely suppressed Madoka’s Law of Cycle powers, and her memory of them. The powers are still there, and even while she’s showing Madoka around the school, a momentary recollection has her suddenly about to transform back into that godlike being.

Homura has to embrace her tightly to stop the transformation, but a time will probably come when she can’t, and the angel and demon will become enemies with opposing goals. In other words, all’s well that ends well for the time being, if you happen to be on Homura’s side. This is very much in keeping with the franchises refusal to hand out happy or even easy endings, preferring qualified, ambiguous, or just plain strange ones. After all that’s happened, consequences and compromises were inevitable. The show doesn’t rule out future problems…nor future rewrites of the universe.

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The post-credits sequence is strange indeed, but again, nothing new for this franchise. Sitting high above the city she in effect controls, apparently content with the way things are (again, for now), and fully equipped and prepared to defend the way things are, whether it’s keeping Madoka from rising back to godhood or keeping Kyuubey neutralized.

If Homura has to be “evil” in order to share the real world with the one she loves by suppressing her true nature, so be it.

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