Punchline – 01 (First Impressions)

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Sakamichi no Apollon. Zankyou no Terror. Shingeki no Bahamut. GARO. All shows from the Maruyama Animation Produce Project Association, or MAPPA. All regarded by RABUJOI staffers as well worth the effort of watching them.

Which brings us to Punchline. Despite knowing nothing about it going in, I knew it probably wouldn’t be crap, because nothing from MAPPA has been crap. Disappointing or inconsistent in parts, perhaps? Sure. But each of those other shows also had sparks of true greatness that again, made us glad we tuned in.

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In the first five minutes, our ignorance of what Punchline is about was thoroughly washed away, and the protagonist Yuuta gains superpowers and saves a bus full of people, along with the two young women who were trying to save said bus. And how do those powers awaken, you might ask? When he sees a woman’s panties. That’s right: his powers turn on…when he turns on. Which…I’m not going to lie, is kinda dumb. BUT.

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Fortunately, fanservice and sophomoric hero dynamics aren’t all Punchline has to offer. Right after saving that bus, the bad guy possesses his body and kicks his spirit—everything that makes Yuuta Yuuta—out, leaving him a roaming, body-less spirit.

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Even so, his powers are still activated by the sight of panties, but if he gets too turned on, he ends up incinerating the Earth. Ask me how I know all this (yes, it was a talking cat…why the heck wouldn’t it be?) The cat is able to turn back time and un-destroy the world, so Yuuta has a second chance to look for a book that will help him get his body back.

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He does so by searching his apartment building, which is naturally populated by a colorful mess of comely females: the pink-haired idol Narugino Mikatan (Amamiya Sora), the layabout blonde glasses girl Hikotani Ito (Kotobuki Minako), the brunette gadget girl Daihatsu Meika (Kugimiya Rie), and the green-haired spiritual medium Lovera (or Rabera) Chichibu (Tomatsu Haruka).

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Interestingly, Yuuta himself is voiced by a female, namely Inoue Marina (whom I know best as Zetsubou-sensei’s Kitsu Chiri). That’s one strong voice cast, and they all excel at bringing their distinctively-designed charges to life. None of them can see him, but Lovera can sorta detect him, being a medium and all. We’ll see how he ends up reconnecting with them.

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Still, even she doesn’t detect him this week. Instead, Yuuta resolves not to get to excited and re-destroy the earth, and meanwhile Meika scours the news for bad guys doing bad stuff and sends out Mikatan in her alter ego as superheroine “Strange Orange.”

Her maho-shojo-style transformation scene is nicely subverted by a picture-in-picture showing what’s actually going on: that she’s just doing an awkward little dance and has to put on her costume the old-fashioned way. That means disrobing in front of Yuuta, who somehow manages to suppress an apocalyptic reaction.

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The anointment of powers on Yuuta through means that ensure a steady dose of ecchi will pervade Punchline is mitigated by the fact that other than his heroic bus act he doesn’t have that dominating a role in this episode, despite the fact he’s in almost every frame. He’s an inert observer, watching a side of his neighbors he never knew. I also enjoyed all the various elaborate ways his nose ended up bleeding. There’s quite  a bit of appealing Kill la Kill zaniness to the animation in general.

There’s also  whole double-edged sword of those powers of his, which demand a certain degree of moderation and restraint—a lesson I hope Punchline will take to heart. When he does blow up the world a second time, before the very cute (and non-ecchi) credits roll—it’s not because he perversely seeks out girls’ panties, but simply the fact that a “Chekhov’s loose thread” in Meika’s knit dress gets caught in Mikatan’s motorcycle, causing it to rapidly unravel. IT COULD HAPPEN TO ANYBODY.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 01

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I’m all through with Steins;Gate, neither Gunslinger nor Plamemo really wowed me, and I’m just itching for Sidonia season two right now, so I thought I’d fill the void with the latest imagining of a very old acquaintance. I also dug Psycho-Pass, which was clearly inspired by GitS, so I decided to give re-entering the franchise a shot.

That said, I’m what you’d call a GitS tourist. I’m not even sure GitS is the preferred way of abbreviating the title for the sake of brevity. I watched the first two movies in relatively close succession ages ago (the first is a classic and the second isn’t bad), but there my exposure ends; I never so much as caught a dubbed episode of SAC in its entirety on Adult Swim.

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That means I also missed the long-form OVAs that were releaed between June 2013 and last September. Alternative Architecture is a second chance to catch Arise in the midst of a TV season, and I’m taking it, so I hope you’ll forgive my ignorance going forward. I also hope you’ll forgive me if these aren’t the most timely reviews; due to time constraints I’ve got to choose my shows carefully.

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This first episode efficiently reintroduces us to the world of cyborgs with cyberbrains and prosthetic bodies and virtual ghosts, and to Kusanagi Motoko, Badass, now voiced by one of my favorite seiyus since her debut in Escaflowne, Sakamoto Maaya. She also contributes vocals to the suitably hip, electronic OP composed by Cornelius.

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Like Tsunemori Akane in PSYCHO-PASS, Motoko in Arise is faced with a new threat to the fabric of the society she semi-grugingly participates in: a terrorist plot to infect cyberbrains with a virus that turns people into puppets with which to wreak havoc. The culprit of one such attack is a young woman, a war orphan and talented programmer with an aversion to cyberization. As the shot above indicates, Motoko doesn’t have the full picture yet, but she’s sent to escort this individual, who hosts the virus, to a secure location for analysis

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This host, called Emma, immediately tries to start sowing the seeds of doubt in her captors Motoko and Batou, asking them if they can truly trust their memories anymore now that she (or whomever is controlling this prosthetic body) has found a way to create false memories within cyberbrains. And because Motoko is an impatient badass, she dives right into Emma to see what she can see.

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There, she finds a second ghost within her, which I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess is a rarity. It’s clear Motoko may not just be fighting terrorists, but continuing to butt heads with the government supervisors and bureaucrats who may not share her ideals, but nonetheless technically own her body.

While Arise’s first episode had some thrilling set pieces, particularly in the beginning, there were some scenes in which all momentum stopped while old guys talked about dense stuff I only had the slightest handle on. There’s also a b-plot involving tracking and capturing another terrorist that wasn’t all that gripping despite its best efforts.

I can chalk the pacing issues up to this being the first part of a larger, feature-length piece. I also rather liked the way sound was used in the episode: scenes of aural cacophony juxtaposed with dead silence or slight white noises lent aural reinforcement to the tense, out-of-balance atmosphere of Arise’s world.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 01 (First Impressions)

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My watchlist has suddenly become stuffed with halfway-decent coms, be they rom or not. The latest to grace my LCD is MGK, which delivered a dense, crisp, madcap romp around the suddenly far-more-interesting life of the orange-haired spark plug that is Ichinomiya Eruna, who dominates the episode. This is not a bad thing.

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Just as there are many moods and sides and expressions to the show in which she stars, Eruna is a satisfyingly-realized, complex goofball of a girl who gets lost in her dating sims (in which she dates girls, whom she seems to prefer), and we get lost in them right along with her. She occupies a very interesting character zone: like girly than Sakura Chiyo; less hulking than Onizuka Hime; less…male than Katsuragi Keima (Did I mention I love all those guys?), and yet far more than the sum of her parts.

She’s sorta like a chuuni with her delusions, which are a means of relief from the mundane world in which she live. She’s the dashing heroine in her daydreams, but looks and acts like the dashing heroine in real life too—complete with her cape-like scarf—only that life isn’t taking her seriously. She longs for a place that does…a place where she can spread her wings and have some fun.

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Eruna’s cousin Shigure (who seems to have a one-sided thing for her) manages to pique her interest in Mikagura High where he attends, but because of the fact their uniforms kick ass. And you know what? They DO. Not only that, Eruna decides if Mikagura is the kind of place she can meet gorgeous angels like Mikagura Seisa, the principal’s granddaughter…well, where does she sign up?

Having established that Eruna is not really just shallow, but yearning for a more interesting existence, Mikagura feels like a good fit right off the bat. For one thing, everyone customizes those awesome uniforms just like she does with her yellow scarf. For another, the clubs battle each other with their club skills in exchange for more favorable living conditions, pride, and other perks.

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Mikagura is full of colorful characters who flaunt the dress code. Eruna is beside herself with glee at the sight of all the cuties, who she meets in a kind of gauntlet of cute. To her credit, she manages to express her excitement in different ways each time. She’s truly a girl of a thousand expressions.

When she learns the rough side of the coin—that she’s starting at the bottom of the pile with nothing, she doesn’t despair. So what if right now all she has is a sleeping bag in the drafty hall, side dishes for dinner and navy showers? She has a feeling she’s going to have fun here…and she won’t be on the bottom forever.

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To her delight, she also gets to meet the cover girl herself, Mikagura Seisa, the water to Eruna’s fire if ever there was one. Eruna watches in awe as Seisa calmly douses a minor dispute between Mr. Artiste and some green-haired (literally), green-horned (figuratively) whelp.

When Seisa approaches Eruna, whose enrollment was recommended by the floating cat Bimii (well, that’s what Eruna calls him), things get even better, as Seisa personally invites her to join the illustrious and exclusive “going home” club, on the condition that she sub for her in the next club battle. Eruna is, not surprisingly, SO DAMN OKAY WITH THIS.

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That brings us back to the show’s cold open. The tense atmosphere, dark aesthetic, and scenario of one student fleeing another who corners and appears to waste her with a camera flash initially had me thinking this might be more of a Braverade number, a la Akuma no Riddle. Only when Eruna met her in the end did I learn the girl chased and flashed was Seisa.

Was this a flashback or forward? Was this a taste of some heavier things going down in the future, or just a tease? Considering the bright, playful tone of the episode that followed, I’m inclined to think the latter, but that’s okay. I’m fully on Eruna’s side, and whatever club activity she ends up choosing, watching her stumble, fall, get back up, dust herself off, and kick some ass should be fun.

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