Death Parade – 04

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Death Parade broke my expectations this week. Sort of. In that my guess based on episode 3’s post credits preview didn’t pan out 100% the way I expected. However, the resulting ‘surprise’ was deeply unsettling in a way that I don’t think Death Parade intended…

So, I’m left with a conundrum. Death Parade is in no way a competitor for Yuri Kuma, which it is paired with. It is, however, a reasonable competitor for Yatterman and/or JnM. Heck, since I more or less admitted I will keep Binan Koukou even though it ‘fell to Yatterman,’ should I break my word and keep this show too?

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Honestly? Even though I have my reservations about ‘how it made me think,’ Death Parade probably deserves an on-going review slot on my docket.

Why? Let me sum this week up: We break the mold in ep4 by pitting two people who DO NOT KNOW EACH OTHER against one another. This may sound trivial but changing the formula to allow anyone — anyone at all — who dies around the same time to ‘face off’ against another ghost opens up a lot of potential.

In this outing Yousuke and Misaki have no filial or accidental relationship. In fact, even their tragedy only has an oblique relationship, and then, only as inverse ‘traumas.’ Rather, Yousuke has issues with his step mother, who is an incredibly good person, and ultimately with his own inability to accept her for that. Where as Misaki has issues with being a woman who was constantly abused by men, who shackled her with children, but deeply cared about her children until the end…

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So it’s complicated and not a is one person right or wrong/ good or evil, as has been posed by previous episodes. Good!

However, as with previous episodes, the woman is cast into ‘hell’ for reasons that are either alien to my cultural upbringing or alien to Japanese cultural expectations but not ‘critiqued’ hard enough by the characters for me to appreciate. So the result is “I thought a lot about the episode” but I’m not sure I’m thinking about the episode in the terms intended by the creator…

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Truly, I don’t get why Misaki is tossed to the void at the end. Sure, she is brutal and her abuse doesn’t make up for her treatment of Youske. Likewise, she smacks her manager the same way she was smacked by the brutal men in her life before. But wtf??

I totally buy her frustration of being pulled away from her children again, even though she finally has money and means to support them, and that she honestly is supporting them the only way she knows how.

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Even though Dequim shows the first sign of actual emotion, it’s really weird that he sides against the woman yet again — and yet again it seems like the woman is in the clear (blatantly) from my biased American viewpoint. So what to make of it all?

The good: as always, it was a beautiful episode, fantastically controlling mood and professionally well timed. More to the point, there was no ‘arm flailing ahhh moment’ to make the characters feel stupid, or fourth wall breaking, For this it gets an 8 without question.

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However, and this is partially because I read (and lost the link to) a very good article that debates the 4th episode’s treatment of women, Death Parade has consistently tacked… counter to my cultural up bringing in regards to women and their rights.

To explain, one reviewer noted that DP takes a ‘surface beauty’ approach to women in episode 4 by showing the girl as she would be post plastic surgery and by soft-pitching her love interest a ‘why not, she’s pretty now’ scenario. Seriously? Would any of us care if she was his ‘ugly childhood friend when she was that hot not AND they were already dead? It cheapens the idea that a person, especially a woman, can be good and attractive for what she is, especially if she’s only the plastic parts she reconfigured herself to be after death…

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I’m not going to feminazi you hard core here, nor do I agree with it 100% but… yeah. I don’t really get Misaki’s voiding at the end of this. To me, it just felt weird.

Am I biased? Yes. My mother died in agony before me days before my 18th birthday. Even with that caveat, its very hard to respond to ‘3 in a row’ without noticing a pattern. Even if that pattern broke my expectation of a ‘double void’ this week.’

hrm… am I really not going to drop this show even though I promised myself I’d do 3 and only 3 for the season? Maybe. Intentionally or not, it certainly has me thinking…

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Final verdict: the only issue I had with this is actually Youske himself. His backstory is dull, undefined, and he comes off as stupid — even to himself in retrospect. Without a meaningful counterpoint to Mizaki’s seriously gripping, emotionally backstory, this ep is held back.

But only by a smidge! DP 4 comes dangerously close to a 10 and you better go download or stream it now! Stream the whole series while you’re at it! The first three aren’t winners but they’re no slouches either!

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ISUCA – 02

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Every once or twice in a decade, the fates conspire to bring us a truly great and unique work of art that is so bowl-you-over astonishing, it captures the imagination of the entire planet. I think I speak to all who have experienced it that Isuca episode two is that…and more.

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High school girls undressing in the locker room? Pretty standard fare. But a carpet of rats suddenly bursting out of a locker, knocking the half-naked girls over, and proceeding to eat them alive as they’re sexually aroused? We’re at the pinnacle, ladies and gentlemen. Savor it…for it will never be this good again.

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Yes, that review above was just an illusion, borne from ISUCA sucking your life force right out of you. In reality, Preston has punted this to me. The thing is, it’s(uca) not as an excruciating ordeal as it sounds. This episode was mostly harmless, and surprisingly fun. Devoid of any semblance of weight or significance, yes; simple and innocuous, sure…yet sometimes rubbing up against something resembling slyness. In other words, it was a pussycat. A pussycat going commando.

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Tama, the two-tailed cat specter Sakuya is about to pierce with an arrow last week, becomes Asano Shinichirou’s familiar when he happens to learn her true name, after recalling a stray cat in a box that he must have cared for. She tries to help him deal with the Rat King baddie, but runs out of go-juice, AKA life force.

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Now that is simply a masterful landing, worthy of song; not to mention Tusk’s approval. To not only land face up from such a great height without breaking one’s back, but to have one woman’s face land on your crotch, and another girl’s crotch landing on your face, all inches from the bones of eaten classmates…I ask you: What else is there to say? #weareallasano.

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We learned from visiting her house that Sakuya is a hopeless slob, and so her and Shinichirou’s teacher (and associate of Sakuya’s family) appoints Shinichirou as her maid. But despite the squalor she’d lived in up to that point, she harbors an unreasonable fear or rats and cockroaches, rendering her fairly useless. This week she’s one of the people standing around while others do something.

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And that something is…making out, complete with tongue and drool. ISUCA would be a pretty workaday fantasy action joint, only it aims to distinguish itself by inserting sex pretty much anywhere it can, like a shoplifter stuffing Slim-Jims into their many trench coat pockets. This is not a new concept. But even with the silly ecchi elements, the danger has a nice sharp edge to it.

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Shinichirou’s life force turns out to be SURGE to Tama, who takes out the Rat King with laughable ease, and a fair amount of badassery. Only, when she’s back to her normal self, she’s holding her pray in her mouth like a cat, proud to be presenting a gift for her master (I know, it’s debatable whether that’s what cats do, but let me dream, man!). 

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So we have Sakuya the Slob hiring Shinichiru as her housemaid, and Shinichirou having Tama, whom he names “Tamako”, as his eternal retainer, who’ll have to periodically make out with him to stay alive, which is a pretty good deal, as they’ve each saved each others’ lifes at least twice at this point. That brings us to the fact that Tama is Special; a vessel for freakishly high-level spiritual power. And he makes a mean stir-fry.

Wait…is that RAT MEAT? WHAT IS THIS, SKYRIM?

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End-of-Month Rundown – January 2015

Click to view full-size
Click to view full-size

January is finally behind us. Good riddance, you cold bitch! However, we did discover some gems in the icy bleakness, and February will prove no warmer around here, weather-wise.

This month, let’s do something different, and see if we’ve actually learned the lessons we listed in last month’s rundown:

1. Don’t stick with a show that may look and sound great but seems to be perpetually stalling.

Uso and Parasyte have slowed down, but remain watchable, for now. GARO is its usual episodic hit-or-miss self, and Gundam G is just a joke we keep around to point and laugh at as a shining example of how NOT to make a Gundam, a mecha anime, or a television show in general.

2. Avoid shows you can’t say anything nice about. 

We’ve dropped eight shows to date, all of which you could probably say one or two nice things about, but not much else.

3. Don’t keep reviewing shows you can’t say anything at all about, aside from providing a summary.

Check.

4. Shows that air bi- or tri-weekly have a much greater chance of falling by the wayside.

Preston lost interest and dropped Sailor Moon Crystal, and while Kami-Haji 2 took a week off, that was an anomaly, and in any case the show is more than good enough to survive one week off. Check.

5. Don’t judge a book by its cover…

Shout it from the rooftops: SAEKANO!!! What on it’s surface looked like another competent InoBato/Oreimo harem rom-com is in the early running for anime of the year…no joke.

(Also, if you so desire, whisper KanColle from the basement.)

Other surprises: Binan Koukou (positive) and Death Parade (negative); see Franklin’s comments below.

6. …Unless the cover is obviously representative of the book.

Seiken Tsukai no World Break, Shinmai Maou no Keiyakusha, Tantei Kageki Milky Holmes TD, Juuou Mujin no Fafnir, and Sengoku Musou were pretty much what we thought they were.

Koufuku Graffiti also didn’t hide what it was on it’s cover, but both cover and book are splendidly delicious, so Check!

7. Drop shows quickly and focus on giving the shows you really love the attention they deserve; don’t drag things out.

Check and Check, thanks to Franklin’s bracket. We’ve managed to keep our total show count down while giving everything a relatively fair shake.

8. While it’s nice to run comparisons between two similar shows, it’s probably best to pick one or the other in a busy season.

Not quite a Check, since we’re keeping both Yatterman and Rolling Girls around, and that will remain so for the time being, because both have their individual merits.

9. Don’t automatically commit to sequels. They might end up stinking.

Tokyo Ghoul Root A has had moments that have surpassed the original, while Durarara!!x2 Shou was a little harder to get back into after a few years, but it coming along just fine. Aldnoah.Zero has mostly recovered from its unfortunate first season finale. Everyone here can agree, none of these sequels “stink” anywhere near the way Chaika did. God, that show still makes Preston steam.

10. Have fun!

We added this new lesson to this rundown, because RABUJOI was started so we could sharpen our writing and critical skills while enjoying anime we love. If there’s no RABU or JOI in it, what’s the point?

Steins Gate – 15

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I kinda expected Rintarou, Kurisu and Suzuha to immediately hop in the time machine and start saving the world, but it appears I was too hasty. Instead, we learn slivers of life in 2036 under SERN’s brutal authoritarian regime. Suzuha’s father, whom she’s never even met, bequeathed the machine to her, with the implication that she should carry on his legacy.

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All of the @chan posts by John Titor were actually written by Suzuha, and read by both Kurisu and Rintarou under their own aliases…though in a nice bit of S;G humor inserted in an otherwise serious situation, Kurisu and Suzuha know full well Rintarou’s handle was Hououin Kyouma without him having to say it.

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Kurisu also finally learns the reason Suzuha’s always stared daggers at her: as the future inventor of the time machine, Kurisu is the one who creates the practical possibility of time travel, which opens the flood gates for SERN and eventualy leads to dystopia. (A disquieting fact she also lays down: both Okarin and Kurisu are dead in the year 2036.)

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Of course, it’s not really fair for Suzuha to blame present Kurisu for this, and this is a fact even Suzuha gradually comes to realize as she interacts with her more. Here and now, they’re both lab members and allies. So when it turns out Suzuha’s time machine is broken, Rintarou and Kurisu offer a helping hand.

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This week also marks the return of Alive Mayushii. Seriously…we don’t have to go through watching her die horribly or anything, which is great. But even in this current timeline, the time for her demise quickly approaches.

Rintarou (aw, hell, let’s call him Okarin again for now, shall we?), Kurisu and Suzuha come up with a plan, but when they run into Mayushii and Daru on the street, he has to somewhat brusquely cancel her well-meaning attempt to jump-start the party in spite of his prior warnings.

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Mayushii’s extended, almost knowing wave goodbye, along with Okarin’s half-hearted agreement that they’ll see each other tomorrow—is drenched in anguish. Will this work? It must.

When he slaps on those headphones, he’s doing it to save ‘the world’, his world being Mayushii. And this time he executes a double time leap: jumping back to the time the machine was first completed so he can jump even further back, to August 11.

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This time, Okarin doesn’t try to fix everything himself. This time, there’s a plan: Explain everything to the others (not Moeka LOL) and have Daru fix the time machine so Suzuha can go back to 1975 to grab the IBN 5100 (needed to hack into SERN) and delete the message telling SERN the time machine has been invented in Akiba in 2010, thus changing the future, creating the beta world line, and most likely saving Mayushii.

Simple. What could possibly go wrong?

Mind you, Okarin doesn’t tell them everything; when Daru asks why it’s so important he fix the machine in two days, Okarin doesn’t mention the hell he’s been through, but it’s probably best if Daru doesn’t have the pressure of knowing Mayushii will die horribly if he fails.

Oh yeah, Mayushii’s there too…and as is her wont, she brings up something no one else has: What about Suzuha meeting her dad? Even if she knows she’ll die if they don’t get this plan implemented, Mayushii won’t allow Suzuha’s wish to fall by the wayside. So as the others work, Mayushii takes it upon herself to find Suzu’s dad.

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This gesture eventually moves Suzu to tears, though only Daru sees them, as he asks her a second time to bring him back a rare anime cel from the 70’s. It’s good to have Daru back in the game. It just feels right to have the whole lab working towards a goal, and Daru and Suzuha one-on-one is a combo we definitely haven’t seen a lot (or any?) of.

Even Okarin is inspired to search the web for people peddling small pins like the one Suzu carries, hoping it will lead them to her dad. Suzu comes by later to give Okarin the divergence meter he made in the future, and which will switch over to 1.0 when the future changes.

She also tells Okarin he was the one who founded the very resistance movement she’s a member of in 2036. In a way, he’s her hero, or will be. It’s a very interesting relationship these two have, especially when Okarin curses his future self for giving up on Mayushii and fulfilling stupid puerile fantasies, and Suzuha corrects him: he wasn’t being stupid or living in a fantast: he was trying to create a better future for everyone.

It could end up being the case that Mayushii simply can’t be saved, even if they reach the beta world line, and continuing to try would be an exercise in further futility and self-destruction.

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Still, Okarin has a point: whatever point he gave up on saving her, I’m sure he had done everything he possibly could have done, but I still don’t want him to become that Okarin. I imagine that Okarin went on far longer in his lonely and futile crusade to find the right formula to save her, and failed a lot more, and became a lot more haunted and broken. Then again, if it wasn’t for that Okarin, there’d have been no resistance and no Suzuha coming to 2010.

Sure, Mayushii almost gets arrested for distributing flyers falsely accusing Suzuha’s father of kidnapping, and generally fails to get any leads, but just having her around, being warm, caring Mayushii, is a real shot in the arm for me as much as for Okarin and the other members.

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Her efforts weren’t all for naught, either: she inspired Okarin to scour the bauble tables around Akiba and he got lucky: one vendor says he may know where the pin came from and/or who it belonged to. With Daru is almost done the repairs to the machine, Okarin races to that vendor.

He wants to save Mayushii more than anything, but he can’t discount everything Suzuha has done for him and the lab. Finding her dad so they can meet for the first time before she leaves is the least he can do for her. So off he goes.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 15

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In a show with so many pleasing sounds, it’s distressing that the most noticeable sound this week was the sound of wheels spinning. With one frankly head-scratching exception, all of the key events of this episode were merely rehashing points that have already been made, with little in the way of new insights, and delivered with a distressing abundance of melancholy.

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First up in this Pity Party is Tsubaki, whose problem remains the same as last week’s, but now she diagnoses herself as standing still in life as everyone else moves on. It was one thing for Kousei to be taken away by music in the form of Kaori; now there’s talk of him going abroad. The timing couldn’t be worse, as she’s just realizing these feelings when he’s about to ship off.

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Tsubaki has also been totally phoning it in with Saito, and with his crush on her long gone, he’s the one to dump her, which he tries to laugh off as the two simply being too much alike. Obviously, it’s for the best. I was no more invested or comfortable with this pairing than Tsubaki was!

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Tsubaki waits for Kousei in the practice room, and he listens to her tale of being dumped as he plays Clair de Lune. But sorry, Uso: I won’t get fooled again; this is a pretty scene, but it accomplishes nothing that hasn’t been already well-well-well-established.

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Kousei can say he’ll “stay by her side” freely, but I’m not sure why, beyond trying to half-heartedly comfort her. She knows you’re moving away, dude. You can’t say you’ll stay by someone’s side and then move away. That’s the opposite of staying by someone’s side. Saying something like that makes you a liar, which is, incidentally, the title of this episode.

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The episode doesn’t spend all its time reiterating and embellishing the slo-mo train wreck that is Tsubaki and Kousei’s relationship, but dances from place to place. Kousei keeps hesitating to visit Kaori in the hospital. Emi is killing it in competition, with Kousei as her muse, while Takeshi is only wounding it.

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The most inexplicable development is the pint-sized Aizoto Nagi falling out of a tree into Kousei’s lap. He takes her to Hiroko’s, where she wakes up and reveals she’s a top piano student at a prodigious school, and begs Hiroko to be her teacher. After hearing Nagi play the same Etude Kousei played in the competition (harshly, but very well for her age), Hiroko agrees to bring her on.

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Nagi tearfully rejoices, but those tears were faked by eyedrops; this is all clearly some kind of scheme. But the joke may be on her, as Hiroko delegates her training to Kousei. You know what they say: “Those who can’t [hear the notes], teach.”

I’m not quite sure what to make of Nagi’s introduction (hence the head-scratching), except that it’s kinda late in the game to be introducing a moe misfit. The check-ins with Emi and Takeshi reminded me the show doesn’t have enough time to do all the characters it already has justice.

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Then, the cherry on top of this Cake of Despair is Kaori, who was pushed to the sidelines for the whole episode due to her being in hospital and Kousei refused to see her. He comes close once, but hears Ryouta laughing with her in her room and scurries away.

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It’s not enough that we know Kaori has some undisclosed illness that requires ridiculous of meds and intermittent, interminable hospital stays. We also have to watch in horror as her legs suddenly give out beneath her, in the dark corridor of a hospital where apparently no one is on duty. Pretty dang morbid.

I’m sure someone will find her, and she’ll be put back in bed, and Kousei will visit her and she’ll simply laugh and smack him in a stylized comic burst and basically tell him everything but the truth.

Everyone is suffering in Uso right now (except Saito, but who cares about him?), and I’m starting to suffer right alongside them. Would it kill somebody to tell another what they’re really thinking? For gosh sakes, the destroyer girls did it in their third episode!

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