Ore Monogatari!! – 01 (First Impressions)

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A giant boy with ogre-like features lives in the shadow of his more popular male friend, until one day the the ogre rescues a girl on a train and, despite his looks, she seems to have fallen for him.

And his friend, who has never cared for any girl, has an eye for her. A love triangle, a story of social justice, and a damn fine comedy ensues!

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You should watch Ore Monogatari!! because its protagonist is unusual and the fact that the show treats him with reverence, instead of as a joke, shows a degree of social conscience not too frequent in anime or, bluntly, Japanese culture.

As with Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun’s unstated presentation of autism, and the un-importance of that mental state in regards to a person having value, strengths, and above all else deserving love, Ore Monogatari!! gives it’s unstated mixed protagonist social justice.

It’s hella funny too, not surprisingly for the same reasons GSN-k was chokingly funny.

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If you need an excuse not to watch this show, like GSN-k, it has intentional moments of rest between the comedy, and is unlikely to present much action. Likewise, it isn’t overly pretty to look at—not ugly—just plain looking.

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OM!! can be subtle too, which I guess you may not like. Or, perhaps, you’re fried on all the high school dramas out there or find the socially awkward things teenagers do is too cringeworthy to watch?

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Honestly, all those criticisms feel like a stretch to me. The cringes were never that great and, to me, they were counterbalanced by the geniality of the three central characters.

The dialogue is tight, the humor well-timed and amusing, and it all has heart. What else can you ask for from a Grade-A comedy like this?

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Shokugeki no Souma – 02

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SnS keeps the energy pot at a rolling boil this week, delivering another gemstone to be played with by a dog such as myself. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun staring at a glowing screen. Probably because I stare at glowing screens too much. But one thing’s for sure, SnS has got it goin’ on.

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Souma’s dad ships him off to transfer at Totsuki Teahouse Culinary Academy, telling him from the dining room of a swanky hotel in Manhattan (where everyone from congressmen to monks would give their left nut to eat his food) that if he can’t get in and graduate, he has no business harboring dreams of surpassing his dad.

Souma doesn’t question any of that, but he knows it will be an uphill battle, as he sticks out like a sore thumb on a campus full of pompous, entitled asses, all of them with some kind of elite pedigree in the food industry.

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The most pompous of them all has been chosen to evaluate the transfer applicants, including Souma: the arrogant, imperious Nakiri Erina-sama (Taneda Risa), whose superhuman palate has earned her the nickname “God Tongue,” which if ever taken out of context, could really give some people the wrong idea…especially when you consider she has no problem using her power to melt the hearts of smitten subordinates like Arato Hisako.

Erina has been rejecting food since her first words decried a dearth of flavor…in her mother’s milk. Her whole life story is probably embellished, but the point is, she knows food, and she’s at the top of the food chain. And Souma’s at the bottom.

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Even though all the other applicants, dozens of them, flee upon being given permission to do so from Erina (so as to spare themselves being finished in the food world forever if she were to shoot down their food), Souma stays, because he’s got a job to do: surpass his dad. That means he needs to get in, so he mostly ignores the eccentric behavior of all these rich dummies, remains calm, and starts cooking.

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The exam revolves around the use of the egg, which is simultaneously the easiest food to prepare and the easiest to mess up royally. You want to know if someone can cook? Ask them to make a simple fried egg or omelette. This is essentially what Erina does, and while she maintains a strict dubiousness that this shaved gorilla from the muck will ever hope to excite her royal palate, his white rice seasoned with chicken wing/bonito aspic and egg does just that.

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Erina is the queen of bizarre flavor metaphors, from being hit with a jukebox under a waterfall, to baithing in a hot spring with a gorilla, to being tickled by angel feathers in heaven. But when those angels in her “ha-food-cination” start to bear the commoner Souma’s visage and they start to get all grabby with her sheet, she’s suddenly turned off.

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In this case, Souma’s food really did excite her palate, and indeed her whole body, but it’s interesting to see that everything is relative in SnS. It was far easier to tear the evil developer and her goons’ clothes off than those of one of the most refined palates in the world. On top of that, no matter how phenomenal Souma’s food is, Erina is simply too prejudiced against his bottom-feeder background and his tendency to, uh, treat her as an equal human being (how dare he!).

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Simply put, she doesn’t like him, so she fails him. While certainly a setback for our hero, there’s zero doubt he’ll find his way into the academy with or without Erina’s approval…probably without, which will mean the beginning of a tense rivalry between them. Still, for at least a time, Souma has to stew in the gross injustice of being rejected despite not only facing a formidable foe with unblinking eyes, but actually impressing her. What’s a bloke gotta do to get some respect around here?

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Fortunately for Souma (and us), Erina doesn’t run the academy; her grandfather does. And he happened to eavesdrop on Souma’s exam, and sneaks a taste of his rice. And because he’s not a stuck-up brat, he’s able to dive fully into the flavor and let it wash over him, leading him to shed a bit of his clothing in clear approval. Souma’s back in!

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DanMachi – 02

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The increasingly symbiotic patron/servant arrangement between Bell and Hestia reminded me of Chaika in DanMachi’s first outing, but it’s second is all about its similarities to SAO—and not just because Bell has the same seiyu as Kirito, but the whole rpg-like setting, where experience and equipment matter, as do relationships. And it’s relationships that DanMachi excels at in the early going.

The dialogue is very leading at times, but it’s also heartfelt, moving, and quite solid in general, starting with Hestia’s little speech to Bell about her commitment to supporting him no matter what, so he needn’t be so rash. It’s not just their official arrangement she’s concerned about, but Bell himself: she doesn’t want to be left alone, and neither does he. This is an important break from SAO, where it took time for Kirito to trust, work with, and love others.

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There’s even a hearty helping of SAO-style arbitrary fanservice! Yes, despite her slight build, Hestia is quite well-endowed. I knew a girl like that in high school, and though I had to tip my hat, I also worried for her back.

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It’s also nice to see the show follow up on things like Bell running out on his bill, but being forgiven by the landlady thanks to the silver-haired Syr, who’s taken a liking to the white-haired rookie. Bell has a nice face and a kind heart, and he’s a classic underdog with hidden value, so it makes sense that he’d attract more than just Hestia, even if he’s as inexperienced with girls as he is in the dungeon.

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I have to applaud this episode not just for bringing the heart and the world-building and that comedy, but for delivering so much in one episode without overwhelming me. Just as Hestia tells Bell not to leave her alone, she leaves him alone to attend a Banquet of the Gods. Unfortunately, Nanami didn’t get a cameo. ;)

But the banquet does a very efficient and entertaining job of laying out the various gods in play here on DanMachi, from the fiery, plucky Loki (the Norse trickster god) to the floating-above-the-fray Freya (Norse goddess of love). Heck, even Ganesha is here, throwing an arena extravaganza.

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Ah, so that’s why she has such big boobs…so she has rhetorical ammo against those of lesser endowment who would mock her stature!

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While they spend the middle section of the episode apart, Bell is foremost on Hestia’s mind. She attended the banquet in hopes of bumping into Hephaistos (god of blacksmiths and other craftsmen and artisans), and prostrates herself and begs for Bell’s sake for her to make him a weapon to match his potential. Hephaistos is initially dubious, but sees Hestia’s devotion to her child and agrees, as long as she helps her make the knife, and promises to eventually pay for it.

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In a nice bit of misdirection Freya is initially portrayed as a neutral if not benevolent goddess, but shows her true colors in seeking out the new up-and-coming talent in Bell, whom Hestia hasn’t been able to keep under wraps. Here’s hoping Freya isn’t just a female Nobuyuki Sugou, and there’s some nuance to her impending villainy.

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As for Ais Wallenwhatsit (as Hestia amusingly refers to her), we only get the slightest glimpse of her, catching a glimpse of Bell in the crowd outside. Ais looks to be the Asuka to Bell’s Kirito (while Hestia is definitely a Suguha…and Syr a Lisbeth), but with the added twist that her goddess also seems interested in him, and perhaps not in a wholesome or honorable way—Freya is the god of sex, war, and death after all, and Ais is beholden to her.

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But meanwhile, Bell fights hard to protect Hesita, while Hestia works hard to support him, in a very sweet, equitable, believable relationship. Bell would probably see Hestia as his little sister were it not for the fact she’s a goddess, while Hestia seems to have more romantic feelings for Bell, in an inexperienced goddess-courting-a-mortal kinda way.

She insists they go out on a date for the Monsterphilia festival, and Bell can hardly refuse. Frankly, he’d be a fool to do so, even though he’s trying to get Syr’s wallet back to her. I wonder if Syr “forgot” it on purpose so her co-workers could put Bell on her trail?

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But the date goes sour when a beast (controlled by Freya) escapes the arena and goes after Hestia, forcing Bell into another fight he’s not ready for; he has to shake off his fear, and his regular weapon shatters against the beast’s hide. I have to say, the sudden shift in mood is very well done, thanks in part to a nifty chase scene and some truly kickass battle music that reminded me of GARO’s boss fights.

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What’s also great about Bell is that he’s not a fool. He knows he’ll win if he survives, as the landlady said, but he won’t abandon Hestia. That said, he also knows he probably can’t win this fight as he is now, but after getting Hestia to a safe place (though behind bars is a bit harsh), he decides he’ll at least buy her as much time as he can.

Little does he know as he runs from Hestia and towards the danger, that the blade Hestia made with Hephaistos; the one that can probably defeat Freya’s beast, is strapped to her back. She needs to keep reminding him that they’re in this together.

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Nisekoi 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

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To be honest, I didn’t NEED a second season of Nisekoi, but this first episode gradually sucked me in and now I’ve totally bought in anew, emerging late as the best striaght-up romantic comedy I’ve seen this Spring. I accomplished this by delivering more of what we loved about the first season, but also by subverting expectations along with Chitoge’s.

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The premiere also struck a good balance between re-introducing the series premise, and later focusing on one girl exclusively. I say “good” because the first third of the episode was a high 7, tops. The locket is back in play as a plot device, but it inexplicably still can’t be opened, which seemed a bit of a cheat. In any case, the significance of its contents have grown far less important compared to the development between the various characters.

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I preferred if the show moved on from the damn locket, and to its credit, it does at least move on in this episode. CHITOGEISTHEBESTGIRL is a popular refrain on the interwebs, and after a Chitoge showcase like the final two-thirds of this episode, it’s pretty damn hard to argue with that group of smushed together words.

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We’re given unfettered access to every thought and insecurity in Chitoge’s strawberry blond head, from her newly-acquired self-honesty with the fact that yes, she is in love with Raku, to the anxiety and suffering she endures trying to get Raku to notice changes she makes to her appearance in order to engender compliments.

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She’s well aware, as we are, how dense Raku can be about such things, and she was hoping against hope that he’d surprise her, but it’s nothing doing. The episode also does a great job accentuating her changes, be it her lip gloss, shampoo, nails, or ribbon (she thankfully stops short of wearing special panties…this ain’t Punchline!). This makes Raku look all the denser and more idiotic for failing to notice any of it…not to mention make us angry at him for frustrating Chitoge so.

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We wouldn’t be so pissed at him if we didn’t know exactly how hard Chitoge is trying and how futile it all is, which is underscored by Nisekoi’s trademark tremendous close-ups, showing Chitoge’s face in increasing levels of contortion and torture at the sheer cluenessness of this boy. When she asks “why did it have to be him”, I can’t help but agree with her, at least after all this. Chitoge may be being petty and superficial, but that’s her goddamn right, as far as I’m concerned. Call me old-fashioned if you must!

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Was Nisekoi simply going to torture Chitoge for the final two acts and keep the wall up between Chitoge and Raku? No, and that’s what really made this episode for me: the subversion of all of her expectations. It’s all well and good to paint a picture of Raku as a villainously clueless twerp when we’re constantly in Chitoge’s head.

But not only did Raku really notice the gloss and the shampoo and the nails, but he also noticed a lot more, like when she was hungry, or when she changed her lunch choice from beef to ham (he is a chef, after all). If anything, he’s acting more like a dutiful husband, a domestic partner; something even deeper than a casual boyfriend, since he’s so comfortable with her he assumed he was beyond dishing out embarrassing compliments.

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Perhaps he’s learned that even someone he can be himself with wants a little bit of superficial praise now and again, just for the heck of it…because, well…just look at that face! And maybe he’ll keep his eyes open in the future for things such as the new ribbon he failed to notice. Hey, nobody’s perfect. Neither was this episode, but it was pretty great nonetheless.

Now, let’s see if the show makes us shift our allegiance to another girl next week, as it tended to do its first season!

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Urawa no Usagi-chan – 01 (First Impressions)

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Usagi is a pleasant girl who lives in Urawa City in Saitama, Japan… which funded this anime’s creation as an advertisement for some reason.

As the seasons change, Usagi, a junior in high school wakes up, walks to a shrine, talks to an old woman, and then chats with friends before getting to school. That’s it.

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Ignoring the budget-nature of the show, and the budget nature of micro-format shows in general, UnUc is brutally devoid of purpose. Nothing happens, no character is memorable and the posterized photos of Urawa City that make up the background aren’t pretty at all.

And that lack of pretty is bewildering, since the show exists to advertise a city. Come live here… because it’s kinda run down and drab looking? We have narrow streets and old people? What??

Lip-sync is off, animation is jerky, it’s technically animation and inoffensive but completely without merit. I normally say there’s nothing to lose in watching a 3:00 show but UnUc proves me wrong. I WANT THOSE 3 MINUTES BACK!

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Triage X – 01 (First Impressions)

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Black Label, a secret group of vigilante surgeons, some of whom may still actually be high school students, fight back to remove evil from the body of their City. With guns, cool motorcycles, and bulletproof helmets.

But their coolest dude appears to be living on the edge, not following the rules. Little do they know, he’s talking to the childhood ghost of his dead friend.

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Also, his body is made from parts of that dead friend’s body, from when they were both blown up by terrorists who bombed a medical conference…

Triage X is a stupid, exposition-you-to-death, juvenile show pumped full of boy toys and boobs to look at. Except it’s heavily censored.

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You may like Triage X: if you enjoy the secret lives of high school students with big breasts who fight crime after school. If wait for the BluRay, you’ll even get to see a fair amount of those boobs too.

It’s not drawn badly but it has a 90s feel to it that reminds me of BurnUP and other ‘extreme’ cop and robbers shows. For better or worse, the vehicle and weapon design got plenty of attention.

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You may want to skip Triage X: if high school angst, love triangles, and having plot and characters endlessly expositioned at you isn’t your cup of tea.

Most likely, you’ve seen something similar before. Worse, so much is thrown at you in the first episode that I found no ability to empathize with any of the characters specifically. I didn’t even realize one of the high school girls wasn’t part of Black Label at first.

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Honestly, I don’t see any reason to follow this show. It isn’t terrible-looking, but the censorship ruins it’s base-appeal, and the so-evil-it-hurts villains are as over-designed as they are dull. Dull dull dull.

bleagh…

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Steins Gate – 25 (OVA)

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As anyone who’s read my nearly five-year-late reviews of Steins;Gate, you’ll know it’s my favorite show, and I really enjoyed the ending, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to see more. A fun and serious peril-free epilogue was indicated, and sure enough, its what we got with this extra episode, which takes place two months after Okabe changes the power structure of the world and runs into a grateful and very knowing Kurisu in Akiba.

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It also takes place in America; L.A. specifically, though on this the episode falters a bit with Okabe getting into some somewhat forced trouble with the TSA and later with some random cops. Granted, he’s acting pretty weird for someone not in his home country. And I must convey serious props to Kurisu’s choice of American wheels: a ’59 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. Like those stitches she applied to Okabe’s coat, it’s pink and memorable.

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She drives her fellow Lab Members to her personal hotel suite and they proceed to treat it pretty much exactly like the lab in Akiba, even taking the same positions and engaging in the same activities. Routine daily habits are hard to break, even abroad!

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Kurisu deposits them at the best lodging they can afford, and the members let their imaginations run wild. Combined with the fact they can’t quite figure who will sleep in which room, Kurisu decides she’ll stay there with them.

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There, at night when everyone else is asleep we get a better idea of what exactly happened with Kurisu (over a DIET Dr. Pepper. AMERICA). She has dreams about things that happened, which happen to be some of her more memorable moments with Okabe, like cheering him up, or stitching that coat. They’re only dreams to her, but Okabe tells her they’re real, which makes it harder for her to bring up the fact she’s also dreamed of them confessing to one another and kissing.

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Prior to that scene in the (surprisingly not too shabby) motel room, Kurisu had been her usual tsundere self, having even told Mayushii Okabe didn’t have to come to America, as if testing to see whether he’d listen to such nonsense. At the Rai-Net tournament Feyris invited them too (at Staples Center; nice) we finally see Kurisu wearing something other than her hot pants-and-cardigan combo; the same maid outfit as Feyris and Mayushii. It’s blatant fanservice, and somewhat random, but who cares? The whole episode is a thank you to the fans for watching.

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And it only gets better. Kurisu lets on that she intends to forget all of the weird memory-dreams she’s been having, since they’re not pertinent to the current world line. Okabe tells her it’s fine, but he’s clearly miffed. Then he spots Suzuha getting into a Mustang and has a cab followe her. Turns out it’s Suzuha’s mom, who in another world line met Daru at the Rai-Net tournament, fell in love, and had a daughter in seven years. Another neat little thread.

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But his desperate chase cost him all but 67 cents of his cash, and his phone battery is dead, so Okabe must return to civilization on foot. He does seem like a dude who can’t be left alone lest he get himself into trouble, doesn’t he? Especially abroad.

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Lucky for him, he’s rarely alone, and Kurisu arrives on her proud, pink steel steed to rescue him, just as he once rescued her in another time.

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S;G has always been pretty stingy with color, other than its cobalt sky. But for this final, wonderful scene, the sun sets and fills the frame with gorgeous hues; the perfect backdrop for some straight talk between the lovebirds. When pressed, Okabe admits, he told her he loved her in another world line, and she him. More than that, he still loves her, and always will, no matter which world line he’s in. Just to be clear, he repeats himself, and asks her how she feels.

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And in what’s pretty much a perfect end to an imperfect but still immensely fun epilogue, Kurisu proceeds to respond the exact same way she did the first time Okabe confessed: by telling him to close his eyes. They’re in the desert at sundown with a car with no gas, but I suspect these two crazy kids are going to be just fine.

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Next Week, I review Steins;Gate the Movie: Burdened Domain of Déjà vu.