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?