Death Parade – 12 (Fin)

dpfin3

Death Parade ends its long march with an emotional, twisty, judgement of Chiyuki. It is far from a wartless affair, as the Oculus vs Nona subplot remains weightless and basically unexplained, but it was a solid outing.

dpfin2

To summarize: Oculus and Nona… don’t actually fight. Instead, Oculus info dumps us that Arbiters are built using the discarded dummies (and souls?) of the judged who are thrown into the void and that this means…

well its really not clear what this means but Nona is dead set on getting souls (or soul-like contents) into the Arbitors to shake things up.

dpfin6

Meanwhile, Decim puts Chiyuki through a similar ruse to what Ginti did last week. Here, he pretends they have returned to the living world and shows Chiyuki her grieving mother, an empty house, and offers her a button to press that will return her to life…

at the cost of someone else’s life! While Chiyuki doesn’t realize this is a trap, she still ultimately makes the moral decision, based in no small part on her experiences with other souls and Decim is brought to tears. Then he reincarnates her, learns to smile, and leaves her dummy-body on a chair next to the bar.

dpfin5

What worked: While I thought Decim’s trap was obvious, it was a nice mirror of Ginti’s all the same.

And trap aside, seeing Chiyuki’s mom and her anguish was emotionally resonant. This was a major feels episode and, for once, it didn’t feel contrived and cheap in the delivery.

dpfin7

What didn’t work: any second spent without Chiyuki and Decim on screen. Oculus’ objection to Nona, the lack of coherent reasoning for Nona’s agenda, and the complete lack of a conflict between them just zap the subplot’s strength.

It never got meaningful development and, like the ‘people are dying too quickly’ the fuzziness of it all felt more annoying than apetite-wetting for more. Really, beyond Decim learning to smile and possibly becoming a better ‘person’ nothing feels consequential at all.

dpfin1

So I have mixed feelings about this series. If not obvious from all of my reviews, I greatly respect Death Parade’s sense of style and that it is, to some degree, a show that took risks. When it tried, it was good at making me feel for its characters too.

That said, I found it highly predictable and muddled. The secondary conflict, which should explain what and why Decim is, never manifests and Chiyuki is not very interesting after you strip away her sex appeal.

Certainly not one for the heritage list by any event but a nice, mostly pleasant show. Probably worth a binge if you didn’t catch it and have time at some future point.

8_ogk

Advertisements

Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 12 (Fin)

tg2121

Tokyo Ghoul Root A delivers a finale as still and austere as the previous episodes were flashy and frenetic. It was a hauntingly gorgeous episode so quiet and deliberate, every gesture and breath and ambient sound contained multitudes. Aside from the insert song, a stripped down version of the first season’s OP, there isn’t even any music telling us how to feel. It’s all in the artistry of the camerawork, lighting, and, of course, the characters we’ve come to know.

tg2122

More than anything, there’s a palpable feeling of finality to this finale, that a page is about to be turned. Ken starts in a kind of limbo, in the place that held so many happy memories for him. It’s as good a place as any for Hide to finally tell Ken that he knows he’s a ghoul.

tg2123

But Hide is in a bad way. The reveal of is injury is a masterpiece of careful unveiling, and the first sign that this truly is the end. Hide was an almost casual, neutral observer of everything Ken and Touka and everyone else have been through. Now that the show is ending, there’s no longer a need for such an observer, so in a way it makes sense for him to die here.

For Ken, his connection and lasting friendship with Hide, someone he had been estranged from going back to the first season, is the only bridge forged between ghoul and human. It was a bridge that was there from the start. If everyone in the CCG had a loved one turned ghoul, they’d likely all be a little more tolerant…and vice versa.

tg2124

Touka arrives at Anteiku to find it ablaze, apparently the work of Ken, again closing a door to the past before walking out with Hide. Touka sees his human eye and moves to meet him, but wreckage nearly crushes her; wreckage that came loose due to a ghoul’s weapon.

tg2125

Touka still follows Ken and finds him approaching the fortified CCG staging area bearing Hide, who may or may not be dead. At this point Touka’s path is barred again by Yomo, and my suspicion that Ken and Touka might never meet again is confirmed.

The episode really takes its time with Ken’s slow walk, both to and through the CCG ranks, but while it’s not perfect pacing-wise, it’s still some very powerful work, and it’s a credit to the show that it was able to slow things down so we could savor the end rather than choke it down.

Like a carefully-made cup of coffee, it takes quality ingredients, the proper tools, patience, and restraint, and TG exhibited all of the above with aplomb.

tg2126

Ken’s final scene is carrying Hide (echoing the show’s promo art) as various CCG soldiers gawk at him and helicopters swoop menacingly above him. These moments were suffused with thick tension as I pondered if and when the CCG would make a move.

tg2127

Ultimately, it falls to Arima to face Ken, who stops and puts hide down. But true to this finale’s minimalist atmosphere, we never see a fight, one-sided or no; only the click of the briefcase containing Arima’s quinque. I can’t imagine it’s a coincidence they both have white hair.

tg2128

Dawn rises upon Tokyo, Anteiku’s fires are out, and only Arima and a rapier-like quinque stand where Ken once was. The snow has stopped falling, the storm is over, and peace has returned to the city. Was it peace attained by Aogiri’s tactical withdrawal, in which case it’s only temporary? Was some kind of deal struck between Ken and Arima?

tg2129

“All we can do is live as we endure loss,” Yomo says to Touka as he stops her from going to Ken, who wasn’t coming back. And he’s right. You can’t just stand still and wallow in despair until it consumes you. The fact som many people on both sides did just that is what put them all on that costly collision course.

After the credits we see Touka has opened a cafe of her own. While cheerfully opening up, she allows a brief moment to gaze wistfully out at the block before her; perhaps she saw something or someone in the corner of her eye? But it’s only a brief moment that passes, and she goes on with her morning with a smile on her face, remembering, but enduring and living. Because that’s just what you gotta do.

9_mag

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 12 (Fin)

sae121

This final episode of Saekano that we know of had the air of a show that was merely saying “see you later down the road” rather than a full-on sayonara. So while it crossed its Ts and dotted its Is for the (remote, IMO) possibility that it wouldn’t be back, it made the right move by not trying to do too much in its finale. Mainly, it focused on sealing the deal on Michiru joining the circle.

sae122

Tomoya got Michiru and her three bandmates their first gig, and while it’s not much, they’re glad to have it. Kato is on her way to the venue with a still very dubious Utaha and Eriri, and finds herself acting as mediator between the bullying Utaha and the sensitive Eriri. Both are still sore from their experiences with Michiru and are acting out in their own ways, but Kato is confident in Tomoya’s ability to achieve his objective. Michiru’s going to come on board and the game’s going to be great.

sae123

It’s interesting that Utaha and Eriri grudgingly accept Kato as something resembling a friend, not the threat they may have perceived her as when she first came on the scene. Heck, they even agree with one another in their little faith in Tomoya, but one can hardly blame them for being so unenthusiastic; it’s like they’re well aware they’re dealing with two very potent competitors in Kato and now Michiru.

sae124

For her part, Michiru doesn’t disappoint in proving she’s by far the most overtly physical member of Tomoya’s harem, essentially mounting him out of shock and anger that she has to play her set in cosplay. She’s too ashamed of one thing—having to play with cat ears—than she is about being on top of her cousin, moving up and down rhythmically just as the others enter.

sae125

In what is definitely a forced, unnatural plot twist (Eriri’s words, not mine), Michiru’s three band-mates fess up to being otakus themselves, and all the music she’s played with them have been anime cover songs. They agreed to let Michiru make the music for Tomoya’s game if he gave them the opportunity to come out of their shells and declare their otakuness to Michiru.

sae126

Tomoya then proceeds to offer a still-uncertain Michiru a heartfelt pep talk (while she’s on top of him the whole time), convincing her that they’ll do great things together, and that her affinity for the anime music she’s already played is proof enough of her respect for the world of otaku that she’ll do fine in front of a crowd of same. He even reverses her past insistence grow out of otakudom by assuring her one day she’ll grow into a fine otaku.

sae127

She takes the stage, and suddenly there’s a tinge of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso in my Saekano. But Icy Tail (which when said with a Japanese accent sounds like “aishiteru” or “I love you”) breaks the ice not with piano or violin, but with Soairo Days from TTGL…nice choice!

sae128

I didn’t catch Michiru’s seiyu Yahagi Sayuri (whom I also loved in Bakuman and Sankarea) being credited for the insert song performance, but whoever did sing it did a decent job, even if the band sounds rather polished considering it’s there first time on stage before a crowd. More than anything though, the episode really captured joy and fun of the concert. Everyone other than Utaha and Eriri looked like they were having a blast.

sae129

And Tomoya’s plot, assisted in no small part by the rest of Icy Tail, works: Michiru agrees to score Blessing’s game. When she draws in far closer than first cousins should for what could be a deal-sealing kiss, then bends over for something even more improprietous, it turns out she’s just pulling one of her patented wrestling moves on him, like her lakeside suplex in the prologue, she’s an athletically gifted girl, and wants to let Tomoya know he doesn’t hold all the cards here, and she hasn’t completely forgiven him for ambushing her with the cosplay.

sae1210

From there, the episode starts to wind down, but not before Megumi and Eriri have a nice little talk. Before she knew it, Eriri had Megumi over for all-night game work, so they can’t very well refer to each other so formally anymore, so they agree to start addressing each other by their first names. This is a pretty big gesture for Eriri, who calls Utaha by her full nine-syllable name on purpose.

sae1211

After a look at the happy ending of the seemingly completed dating sim, and then the credits, we jump forward to the assmbled group admiring their work, which gets close to Aku no Hana levels of plot compression. But it turns out they’re only done the first route, with two months left till Summer Comiket. So there’s still much work to be done.

It’s as good a stopping place as any, but I’ll gladly join the chorus of voices who look forward to a second season where we see those other routes unfold, both in and out of the game. Throughout its run, Saekano was a smart, sexy breath of fresh air: cheekily self-aware, but never obnoxiously so, and full of so much witty banter and laughs that I wouldn’t rule out a full re-watch as I await a sequel. Until then, matane, Saekano.

9_ses

Steins Gate – 23

sg231

Just moments, by Okabe’s reckoning, removed from consigning the love of his life to temporal oblivion for the sake of Mayushii, he gets a call from Suzuha, who has arrived in the undamaged time machine Future Daru and Okabe built, in cool resistance soldier get-up and her braids pinned up behind her ears, urging him to come with her on a mission to save the world from World War III. Okabe is extremely disinterested in any more time-meddling, nor does he give a hoot about the 5.7 billion people Suzuha says will die in the war.

sg232

But two things get him to hop into that dicey space-capsule looking contraption with Suzu: the possibility that Kurisu can still be saved, and Mayushii, after showing a moment’s reluctance in her face, urging him to help this Kurisu friend of his, whoever she is.

And as I had always suspected, saving Kurisu means plucking an arrow all self-respecting time travel stories have in their quivers, and traveling back to the beginning of it all, in this case, Professor Nakabachi’s talk at the Radio Kaikan Building back on July 28, and stopping her from being stabbed.

sg233

At first, this seems all too easy, at least practically speaking: as Suzu prepares the machine to jump back to the future, all Okabe has to do is keep an eye on the Kurisu of that time, while avoiding the July 28 Okabe, lest he create the kind of unsolvable paradox that rends the universe asunder. Frankly, Okabe’s main difficulty is bumping into Kurisu herself on a staircase, and being so relieved and in awe to see her breathing, the fact she has no idea who she is doesn’t even bother him that much.

Of course, things always end up more complicated and fucked up than initially indicated, as we learn along with Okabe that Nakabachi is Kurisu’s father. When she presents him with her latest theoretical paper on time machines, seeking his approval, he flat-out snatches it from her, intending to publish it under his own name. When she objects, a scuffle every bit as nasty as Okabe and Moeka’s ensues.

sg234

I’m not entirely sure why the father-daughter meeting takes place in such a dark and isolated room (besides the fact that that’s where Okabe found her in the first episode); but Kurisu’s unconditional love for her father blinds her from his current state of weakness and volatility. “No daughter should be smarter than her father,” he says, trying to choke her to death.

Things take a turn for the tragically ironic when Okabe springs out of hiding to save Kurisu. Physically he’s a match for Nakabachi, but Kurisu isn’t able to get away, and in the confusion and darkness, Okabe ends up accidentally stabbing Kurisu in the gut with Nakabachi’s pocket knife, just as she wrenches free.

sg235

Forget gut punches, this was a gut-stab to me as well, even though I knew something like this was coming, there was never going to be a way to emotionally steel myself for it, any more than I could for Kurisu’s sacrifice last week. “This is the perfect end for you,” says Nakabachi as he flees with Kurisu’s paper.

Well, it is an ending, as Kurisu dies in Okabe’s arms, sorry she got him involved.  But since this show is based on a visual novel and involves time travel, we also know it’s not the only ending, and it’s certainly not a perfect one. For that, Okabe has to save Mayushii without losing Kurisu.

sg236

But as Okabe and Suzu return to August 21, the experience of watching Kurisu die has left him defeated; her blood is still all over his lab coat, still fresh despite traveling forward three-plus weeks. This small detail injects a measure of hope in me: unlike the pink thread, Kurisu’s previous way of “marking” him, the blood didn’t vanish. Sure enough, Suzu confesses to Okabe that in order to save Kurisu, he had to fail once.

The present is already changed by his actions: Nakabachi appears on one of AKiba’s many public TVs, announcing his defection to Russia with his Kurisu’s paper on time machines (and Mayushii’s metal upa that has her name on it…so that’s what happened to it!). The paper is the key that leads to WWIII, fought with devastating temporal weapons.

sg238

But as I said, Okabe is physically and emotionally spent, and having failed once more, is ready to throw in the towel. That’s when he receives a ringing SLAP from Mayushii. He didn’t give up when he visited her grandmother’s grave with her, and helped her get better, and she won’t let him give up here.

Here, as in the beginning when she gave Okabe’s blessing to go with Suzu to the past, Mayushii proves her worth. Saving her meant sacrificing Kurisu, but saving Kurisu depends on Mayushii convincing Okabe to keep moving forward, which only she can do. And she does. Suzu directs them to Okabe’s phone, which he left in the present, which has a new video message.

sg237

That grainy message is from the Okabe Rintarou of the Future, who helpfully lays all  the cards on the table. The two objectives remain: destroying the paper and saving Kurisu. But simply trying to save Kurisu and change the past will always end in failure (as it did with Mayushii before) due to “attractor field convergence.” More to the point, changing the past changes the three crucial weeks Okabe and Kurisu had together, which must not be lost.

A different approach is called for, one in which he deceives his past self into believing Kurisu is dead when she’s really alive, which will take him to a third world line that he’s called “Steins Gate”, which he and the present Okabe agree is a name chosen despite “no really meaning anything.”

sg239

Future Okabe breaks down the parameters of “Operation Skuld”, named for one of the three norns in Norse mythology (whose name can also mean “debt” or “future” that decide the fates of people. The fact there are three ties in to the existence of three main world lines Okabe has had to weather in order to secure the fates of those he loves. As long as his past self sees Kurisu in that pool of blood, the past won’t change and Kurisu can live in the present that results.

The video ends with a Good Luck and an El Psy Congroo. The fact that his older self, in spite of all he’s been through is still able to channel Hououin Kyouma shakes our present Okabe out of his funk, finishing what Mayushii started. Thanks to her and his future self, he is able to take up the mantle of Kyouma once again, and even let out the first evil laugh we’ve heard from him in a good long while.

I never thought how good it would feel to hear it again. Optimism is back in the air, he’s a mad scientist again, and he’s feeling good about deceiving his past self and the world in order to save Kurisu.

10_brav2