Gundam: G no Reconguista – 19

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After watching this week’s installment of Gundam, Zane came into the office with his hands in the air, as if to surrender. “There’s not even anything of note to make fun of here. At this point it’s just kind of sad,” he said, telling me if he wanted a review I’d have to do it myself.

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So here I am, reluctantly closing the RABUJOI book on Gundam: G no Reconguista after nineteen straight episodes of lovely visuals, some clever sci-fi procedural action, and slice-of-life unfortunately combined with impenetrable storytelling and an abject lack of emotional connection on all fronts.

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There’s a clear retro flavor to the way everyone talks and relates to each other, and I’m sure there’s an audience that enjoys that kind of thing, but to me, it just feels like a lot of the material was written for a bad radio serial fifty years ago, and is now being re-used with updated animation, and it’s just never felt right.

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The show shows us all these lives, but never lets us into their heads, and even when they speak their thoughts out loud, the words feel hollow and inconsequential. The music attempts to create lightheartedness or drama that simply hasn’t been earned by the story, or even attempted to be earned.

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Gundam G-Recon often feels like an animated documentary, which has cameras and mics in everyone’s faces, but nobody explaining what’s going on or why. We are neutral observers, and the stuff being observed is utterly incapable of truly moving us. It’s content to march along to the beat of its own drummer, and you either get in step or walk away.

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That’s mostly because events and introductions often feel random and tacked on for no other reason to make the story and the character dynamics more complex, but no amount of complexity—or kooky group of mercenaries from the Venus Globe—can fix the show’s underlying flaws.

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This is not a terrible show. It’s clearly created by people in love with this universe; its large-scale issues and smaller minutiae alike. It also makes some salient points about space travel, battle, maintenance, and national pride. Its visuals and character and mechanical design are top-notch; and its soundtrack is usually stellar.

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But all those factors merely contribute to my respect for this work. They have yet to garner my love, and without love or any other kind of strong emotional investment (beyond that with the franchise itself based on previous, better works), the cons overshadow the pros. And if I don’t love it after nineteen episodes, I shouldn’t be reviewing it. It’s not RABUJOI way, nor is it fair to you the readers.

Farewell Gundam, until the next series.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 05

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I’ve been intentionally conservative with rating KG’s episodes thus far because, at the end of the day, while the artistry is clear and present and the presentation of food is deliciously creative, the story is as ultra-lightweight and fluffy as a marshmallow. But this show will still make you think a little more about what you’re eating, why you’re eating it, who you’re eating it with, and how it really makes you feel. It will also, obviously, make you hungry.

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I decided to be a little more generous this week because, of all weeks, this KG brought the house; compressing an entire notebook of Summer vacation activities (much of it involving eating) into one gorgeous episode. It’s all achieved thanks to Shiina, who finally invites her new friends to her house.

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“House” doesn’t quite do it justice; it’s more like a sprawling estate that looks like the countryside even though they’re still within the Tokyo Metropolis. It reminds me of Kabaru Suruga’s place, though like Suruga, Shiina isn’t the least bit stuffy, stuck-up, or spoiled as her luxurious quality of life would suggest.

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In this gorgeous, ornate new setting the painters and director can really let their hair down, and they don’t disappoint with Shiina’s digs. It’s also the kind of place where Kirin can start to cross off various items from her Summer Activity checklist, even if some are merely technically being fulfilled (animal traps for a zoo, etc.)

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The episode also fakes us out by first having Kirin meet Shiina’s quiet, kimono’d mom in her garden (who is actually the house maid, Tsuyuko), then showing us that her real mom is like a hyperactive version of Shiina, and just as warm and generous, dispensing ungodly amounts of sweets, and even inviting the girls to partake of flowing somen noodles, a whole big production that requires cutting down bamboo to make the track, before any cooking commences.

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Ryou and Kirin get a little overzealous with the manual labor, but once they’re in the kitchen they’re back in their element, and Ryou helpfully goes over all the sauces and condiments that go with somen, including an orthodoz kombu-and-katsuobushi dashi, which I have made from scratch only a couple times but is far superior to the powdered stuff. I also accidentally leave green onions connected on occasion, as Tsuyuko did.

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Yeah, that’s not how flowing somen works…

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Shiina’s mom gets a nice little meta moment when she expresses relief her daughter isn’t the only one who acts like this when she eats, what with the saturated color, slow-motion and eye-sparkling. As Kirin says in the cold open, eating is a serious duel between the eater and the eaten. In enjoying their noodles so thoroughly (and explaining in detail why), they do their food the attention and justice it deserves.

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While Shiina is inside, her mother thanks Ryou and Kirin for continuing to be her friend, as she was also worried her daughter didn’t have any. Now she notices that Shiina talks a lot more about her day, much of it involving the two of them. The girls react to this by being so overly affectionate to Shiina, she’s a little creeped out, but it’s all cute and charming as hell.

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And thanks to Shiina, Kirin could cross every last item off her checklist (in one way or another), not to mention create priceless memories, which was the purpose of the checklist. An episode that started with three miserable friends stuck in school drawing Summer became three elated, satisfied friends experiencing Summer to its fullest.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 18

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Ange arrives aboard the Libertus flagship and mobile HQ Aurora, with her knight, filled with flowery ideas about convincing her former Arzenal comrades to join forces with the DRAGON to put out the Light of Mana. Unfortunately for her, Jill isn’t going to fight with people she doesn’t trust, and she sure as hell doesn’t trust the DRAGONs; nor does anyone else aboard the sub. Why would they, after all the death and destruction their raids caused?

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The Aurora is shiny and bright and being run just as Arzenal was, but I’m glad the episode shows us that wasn’t always the case. Seeing the state of the Arzenal survivors when they first set off, it’s not surprising that if Jill kept them alive they would rally around her cause, even if the odds were hardly in their favor.

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Jill held the crew together…well, most of them; Salia, Ersha, and Chris deserted and joined Embryo, which will prove telling later in the episode. I was also glad for the “slice-of-life aboard a rebel submarine” after. Momoka’s role as ship’s cook; the three bridge girls becoming mail-riders; a drunk and depressed but still grateful Emma; and especially Hilda, who’s really happy Ange is back, and even happier she hasn’t slept with Tusk yet. Hilda and Ange have had their spats, but they’ve come out of it all as something resembling friends, and it’s clear Hilda wouldn’t mind if they became something more.

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But I knew something about Jill’s mission is off, and we should have seen it coming when Roselie, one of the most oblivious and least informed characters on the show, says “Jill is only one we can trust in the world.” An enraging memory of being beneath a nude Embryo seals it: liberating the world isn’t as important as her personal vendetta, which twists into an obsession within the cramped confines of the Aurora. Whenever she says “Libertus”, she’s actually referring to her own selfish whims.

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She tells Ange she’s changed her mind about working with the DRAGON, but only to use them as cannon fodder, one more tool to reach her goals. Ange refuses to obey, but Jill is ready for that, having endured the bitter taste of the princess’s insubordination many times before, by threatening to toss Momoka out of an airlock if Ange doesn’t fall in line. And now we know: Jill has become Admiral Cain.

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Tusk’s very suspicious late-night visit to the paramail hangar (this is a submarine carrier,  donchaknow) is explained, as he releases gas throughout the ship while he, Ange and Vivian don gas masks. Tusk may be a horny fake-klutz, but he’s also one hell of a knight for Ange, preemptively preparing an escape route should their encounter with Libertus go sour, which it surely did, and in a breathless hurry.

But, again, it’s all because of Jill. The other Arzenal elders didn’t know about the hostage, nor did they know how bad Jill’s obsession had grown. Because this isn’t just about her killing Embryo for some wrong he perpetrated against her. This is about righting the wrong that was her failure. She failed as Vilkiss’ pilot, but she can save face if she makes Ange succeed for her. It doesn’t matter to her anymore how many of her own people or how many DRAGONs have to be sacrificed.

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Jill recovers from the gas and blocks Ange’s path, but Ange puts the still-woozy ex-commander down with a slick-looking kick, obviously the product of her military and athletic training as princess. Ange’s response to Jill’s scheming: “No one knows what’s right…But I hate the way you get things done!” She then takes to the air with Tusk, Momoka, and Vivian, and enjoys the gorgeous blue sky and warm sun, and even flashes a cute Nausicaa pose before Ersha zooms into range…and not to say “Hi.”

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Ange decides she’ll destroy Embryo herself, in her own way. Jill is right that Ange has been through all kinds of hell and torture and has every right to want to destroy the world, regardless of who’s giving the orders. But Ange has changed. She wants to create a world where she can look Momoka, Vivian, Salako, Hilda, and Tusk in the eye without the shame of having used them as tools to satisfy her thirst for revenge. She wants to protect and preserve, not exploit and punish.

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Stray Observations:

  • “If you want to play with your boyfriend in a pink flower garden, do it after our mission is accomplished!” – Harsh burn from Jill.
  • The Opening sequence has been tweaked to include new shots of the Aurora crew, and one interesting still of Hilda holding a nervous Tusk…as Roselie holds Hilda’s hand. I know, these images bear only slight resemblance to actual events in the show, but it’s an interesting choice
  • Tusk casually points out he’s not actually a Norma, but no one is listening.
  • Jill is awful this week, but the show makes sure as villain-y as she gets near the end, she’s far from pure evil, merely incredibly wounded and misguided, with a great weight on her shoulders.
  • I’d say she still has compassion since she let Emma stay with them, but that’s probably because you can never have too many magic-users in your quiver. Another tool, in other words.
  • In the preview, Hilda laments that she only got a little screen time this week, only to be missing from the events of the next episode. Poor Hilda.
  • That same preview shows a naked Salia in what I assume Embryo’s bed, proving Ange’s burn/guess correct.
  • If one considers that at some point in the past Alektra was also in that bed, the romantic web and its resultant emotional fallout grows ever more complex. Like A/Z, Ange has taken a more space opera vibe in its second half: All the conflict begins and ends in bed, or more generally, in people’s hearts.

Death Parade – 05

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This week was all about backstories and, while it wasn’t flawless, it succeeded in laying out several of the show’s plot arcs, introducing the full cast and defining most of their relationships.

Unfortunately, episode 5 just comes out and tells the details and Nona’s introduction of Oculus and Carta felt… dialogy? Very “Hello person by this name who does this thing in the afterlife that I have this relationship with, how are you doing?”

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Castra notes human’s are dying too quickly… again…

For example, tells US Shadow’s backstory, including all his feelings about her, through dialog with another Arbiter. Even though Dequim doesn’t say it to Shadow, the fact that we know all the details so frankly, sucks the mystery and drama right out.

I mean, it isn’t surprising that Shadow is human, that she’s there because Dequim couldn’t figure out how to judge her and that episode 2 started up with her memory being intentionally removed by Nona in order to delay the mandatory verdict.

Learning that she arrived via elevator with her memories intact explains her circumstances but Dequim is so direct, so uninterested, that we don’t get allusions to a deeper meaning, reason, or mystery.

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I guess what I’m trying to say here is: Shadow’s plot isn’t especially interesting because, regardless of how it plays out from here (does she know Dequim from another life?) the end point is still simply Dequim choosing Void or Reincarnation or refusing to choose either, which would be equally conventional.

Without the mood and the gloss, this isn’t a very interesting narrative to follow.

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Nona and Oculus tell us Nona has been a manager for 82 years, amongst other details about the tower because two characters telling us about things is easier than figuring out how to introduce information naturally…

Speaking of gloss, DAMN! Death Parade’s fight sequence was spectacular this week. It was laughably short, but that double bartender super natural fight with water spheres and spider string was on-par with anything Fate/Stay threw out last season.

Likewise, the Manager’s pool with planets scene was delightfully rendered. Beautiful, really. More importantly, both sequences introduced a new character and a greater understanding of the after-death tower and the people who work there. Even if they do it in the most forced, talky way possible.

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SO it was a good week, albeit a little clunky. The first half being a red herring didn’t really add much and the lack of consequences for Dequim not following procedure made it feel arbitrary.

Certainly, its stated that the Arbiters get bored and… something happens…  and this could all be about making sure that Dequim isn’t slipping and Ginti, who he replaced 5 years ago, gets to blow off steam but… it felt like an excuse to give us a pretty fight scene.

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Should I complain? No. Not really.

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As to Shadow’s water-color dream sequence, which is narrated and clearly known to Nona (she instructs Dequim to hang an image from it at the Bar after all), I don’t have much to say?

The aesthetic break was warranted. From it’s on-white setting and muddled colors, it’s nearly a complete opposite from the on-black, clean gradient world of the bar. But is it drawing comparisons between Shadows life before and her relationships now? Probably but who knows.

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“Who Knows?” pretty much sums up how I feel about Death Parade in general. It seems less a mystery and more ‘it hasn’t told us 100% of the details yet’ as a story. Likewise, it’s awkward to have so many tight lipped, emotionally detached cast members around — it makes everyone feel like a puppet, spouting lines where the plot tells them to and not actual characters on their own.

I just hope the Tower’s staffing issues, ongoing dangerously high pace of human death, and godless side plots are given room to grow. That’s where the neat stuff is happening – and I say that completely fallen for Shadow’s tasty good looks!

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