Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 14

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Nagato Yuki-chan’s last episode was so awesome, it would have made a fine end to the series, and part of me kinda wished it was, as I’ve got a full Summer plate. This week didn’t reach the dizzying dramatic highs of last week, it did make me glad after all we got three more episodes.

It was worth it just to see Ryoko welcome Yuki home, with a blend of joy and sadness in her eyes even a dope like Yuki can pick up on. Indeed, she doesn’t remember anything about the time her other self took over, or even the dream in which her other self explains things to her.

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But Kyon remembers, and he hasn’t been able to help but act differently around Yuki ever since. He also stares at the call log entry, as if it’s the entry of someone deceased. In a way, it is; Kyon wants to be able to believe New and Old Yuki were separate people with separate sets of feelings, but he can’t. Like Ryouko, he’s found he likes both equally, and the more they think about it, the more confused they get.

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New Yuki’s words let something in Kyon out that he can’t put back in or compartmentalize behind his stoic surface. It’s plain to see, especially from the newly-returned Haruhi, whose return I thought would be a pain but turned into a wonderful change of perspective, a marvelous use of Haruhi’s character beyond mere comic relief, and a resumption of the love triangle. Haruhi, like Kyon, is dealing with feelings she has for someone who doesn’t remember the same things about him that she does.

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The day they hold Tanabata celebrations is the fourth anniversary of Haruhi meeting Kyon, helping her paint messages to aliens in the schoolyard, and telling he he has no reason not to believe aliens are out there somewhere. He came into her life at a time when she was starting to feel the “senselessness” of her earlier youth give way to more and more common sense, leading to despair.

And he saved her from that despair. She hasn’t forgotten, but he has. People don’t need random car accidents to forget moments that are important to the ones they love. All it takes is time. It’s kind of heartbreaking: even if Haruhi brought up that day to Kyon and he remembered, it wouldn’t change the fact that he forgot in the first place.

But here’s the thing: that past Kyon wasn’t in love with Haruhi. Both Yukis love/d Kyon, and Kyon loves/d both Yukis. They’ve got two episodes to figure out what to /do about it!

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Shokugeki no Souma – 14

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SnS delivers its second masterpiece in three episodes both by putting Souma further up against the wall than he’s ever been, as his souffle omelettes are falling before customers take them. Meanwhile, Erina and Takumi have already dished out 200 servings. But there’s no conspiracy or sabotage behind Souma’s plight: it’s his fault; he effed up, and now he’s got to figure out a way out of the hole he’s made for himself, with time dwindling.

Another chef who finishes well before him is “Snow White”, whose name we finally learn is Nakiri Alice, Erina’s cousin and life-long rival. What Erina brings to the table with her talent, ability, and knowledge of the classics, Alice is on the cutting edge of molecular gastronomy. My face lit up in glee like a Christmas tree when it was revealed Alice’s “eggs” weren’t just eggs.

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As viewers we have the luxury of checking in on everyone as they near, or struggle to near, 200 servings, but Souma has no time to lose. Erina is frustrated that her gloating fails to reach his ears, as he works out the calculations to how he’ll get to 200. It involves lots of eggs, lots of cream, lots of pans, and lots of burners, and his mastery of all of those things at lightning speed in order to lure all those customers.

He moves on from his failure and starts over, getting enough people to his stand so he can serve omelettes as soon as they’re ready. Once the people try the jiggly, fluffy, bouncy delicacies, they can’t contain their enthusiasm and praise, which attracts even more attention.

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I’m not sure where Souma got all those burners or eggs (the logistics of this camp would seem to hinge upon an “Unlimited Food Works” skill someone at Totsuki possesses), but he manages to reach his target of 200…with two seconds remaining. He also impresses the alumni brass like Doujima, as well as the backhanded compliments and a formal introduction by Alice, who is really mean and cool and adorable and a great foil to Erina and new rival to Souma. She can clearly back up her big talk (and then some), and I look forward to seeing more of her.

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And as it did with Alice’s molecular eggs, the show gives us one more surprise, with Doujima summoning all 600-some survivors thus far into the hotel lobby for a big pep talk about how the unpredictability of the camp is a microcosm of their impending careers as chefs, and how they must learn how to deal with surprises and how to adapt when things don’t go their way.

Just when we thought another challenge was in store, the alumni burst out of the doors with a wait staff to reveal that the final challenge isn’t a challenge, but a meal, prepared by that same alumni. Not only is this a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the ultimate reward to the survivors of the camp, but another complete surprise. It really was a beautiful, heartfelt way to wrap up the arc.

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GATE – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: “Otaku First, JSDF Soldier Second” Itami Youji is on his way to a doujinshi event when a mysterious gate opens in the Ginza, and an army of warriors and beasts from the fantasy world pour out and start attacking civilians. Itami saves a woman from being killed and further participates in getting everyone to safety before the Police and JSDF eliminate the enemy army.

Itami is promoted to second lieutenant and hailed as a national hero, but is unprepared and undesirous of all the attention that takes time from his precious hobby. But when his unit is chosen to enter the gate to investigate the “special region” beyond, his priorities start to shift as he realizes he may be able to have his cake and eat it too.

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Why you should watch: This show is built around a solid, fascinating, and clever idea: What if your real and fantasy worlds literally collided? It’s also built around a similarly solid and intriguing character in Itami, who could be called the ultimate Japanese Everyman, with the most serious of jobs and the most serious of hobbies.

The promo art and OP spoiled the fact that he was a soldier, but I enjoyed how he not only kept his job and his hobby separate, but at least initially, considered the latter far more important. His genuine distress at not making the doujinshi event, and later interest in the loot his comrade scored since he did get to go, all add a welcome levity that sets us at ease.

That ease is welcome, because things could have gotten very dark, very quick with that surprise attack by an army from the other side of the gate. What also struck me was that, as a real-life solider, Itami and his comrades are far closer to the world of war games people play on their phones, just as Tokyo is closer to the cities in those games, since it has an Imperial Palace where the people can—and do—seek refuge.

Itami’s pal’s line while they’re on their way in—”Think there are any catgirls on this side?” followed by Itami’s assertion there damn well should be—is a lovely microcosm of a great premise.

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Why you may not want to watch: I know this show probably runs on a family-friendly time slot, but the peril of the sudden attack and its aftermath were somewhat undermined by the almost total lack of overt lack of blood or violence. If a force like that were to burst into the middle of a crowded Ginza crossing, it would be a goddamn bloodbath, not anything that could be honestly portrayed with a PG-equivalent rating. Considering the lighter tones of the episode, I guess such a spectacle had to be sanitized to avoid tonal dissonance.

Perhaps more disconcerting, and possibly not a problem for many if not most, is the same problem Franklin and I debated at length with Kantai Collection, only brought into the present: parts of this episode, particularly the bright, shiny glamour shots of military equipment and personnel on the march to the sound of stirring orchestral music, had the somewhat unseemly whiff of…er…nationalist propaganda. Itami himself felt, at times, like an avatar carefully-crafted by the creators to deliver the message “Join the JSDF: Otakus Welcome!” Not that they shouldn’t be (they should), or that there aren’t otakus in the JSDF (there most certainly are).

While frightening, pale, mute monsters stood in for Americans in KanColle, the fantasy horde stands in for any invading enemy force, be it of state or non-state actors, and the entire episode is a flattering commercial for the JSDF, showing them at their very best. Not that they don’t deserve to be portrayed in this light (I’m, generally, a Might-Makes-Right kinda gal, with veteran relations), it’s just that it was laid on pretty thick, and I’m watching an anime, not a JSDF recruitment video.

At the same time, there’s something to be said for an anime military not being portrayed as dependable, virtuous, and capable, rather than the usual evil, corrupt, and/or incompetent.

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The Verdict: As with KanColle, I’ll give the producers the benefit of the doubt and assume this isn’t meant as insidious nationalist propaganda, because at the end of the day there’s still a very neat premise in play. I’m looking forward to seeing where GATE takes us, and how Itami befriends the real-life elf, sorceress, and gothic lolita he once only saw in media, and briefly hallucinated after hitting a subway pillar.

This was a solid first episode with plenty of exciting action and well-placed humor, and is even able to summon some solemnity, pathos, and gravitas, as Itami is well on his way to no longer thinking of being a soldier only to support his otaku life, but to protect, defend, and avenge his countrymen.

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Classroom Crisis – 01 (First Impressions)

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Rundown:  On the terraformed Martian colony of Fourth Tokyo, the principled Sera Kaito is the homeroom teacher of an elite advanced technology development (A-TEC) class, which consists of eight students including his sister Mizuki. When their incoming new transfer student is taken hostage by disgruntled asteroid miners, Kaito comes up with a plan to save him in time using the class’s experimental X-2 spacecraft.

The class’s ace pilot Shirasaki Iris takes off in the X-2, which Kaito meant to pilot, and makes it in  time, but the hostage, Kiryu Nagisa, already released himself. Back in the classroom, he scolds Mizuki and the program’s persistent waste of company resources, and announces he was sent to downsize and dismantle A-TEC.

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Let’s start with The Bad:  This episode takes its sweet time unveiling the titular “crisis” (in fact, it’s the last line in the episode), as well as revealing that everything we’re watching is happening on a terraformed Martian colony. Which begs the question: Why? This is a slice-of-life/underdog story that just happens to take place in space, but it could have easily taken place on present-day Earth, with an experimental plane instead of spacecraft.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the setting; it just seemed superfluous. I’m sure Hannah would agree with me after watching something like Sidonia: If you’re going for a space setting, go hardCC’s space action was simplistic to the point of ho-hum-dom: Girl flies plane while everyone else watches. And other than her and the somewhat generically nice teacher, no other characters (and there were plenty of ’em) distinguished themselves.

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Now for The Good: While it felt like it took forever, I actually didn’t mind the sneaky slow burn to the revelation this is a much more exciting setting than the blue skies and plain classroom indicated. I also liked the no-nonsense Iris taking the initiative to resolve this week’s hostage crisis.

I also liked the idea of generational kaizen, or continuous improvement, of the human race. They’ve colonize the solar system, but they’re neither satisfied or done there; they want outer space. Sera Kaito was once one of the students in the A-TEC class, and now he’s teaching them, so some of them can teach students when they’re where he is. All the while, the principles of “modesty, loyalty, honesty” and “safety first” are ingrained in all the students.

Iris may not think of her own safety (or, indeed, the potential costs of the rescue mission versus abandoning Kiryu), but she does think of people first, as in people over money. If humanity is to attempt a march across the stars, pinching pennies isn’t the way to do it. I like the challenge of the episode’s final exchange: Here’s someone who is primarily with the financial health of the company, about to shake things up in a program where money has never been a concern, and has been the better for it. Whose will will prevail?

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 00 (First Impressions)

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What is it: A sequel to the stylish, upbeat Summer 2013 series. Thanks to his gamification of mass altruism through the online app Crowds, cross-dressing tech whiz Ninomiya Rui has brought a measure of harmony and stability to the world.

After a brief recap of the story so far, this half-episode introduces new threat in the red Crowds of an organization called VAPE that wants to prove the defeated alien Berg-Katze right. They go after the Prime Minister’s state jet, but Rui, Hajime, Sugane, Jo neutralize the threat in grand fashion, before preparing to meet a newly-awakened Gatchaman living in Niigata.

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Why should you watch? If you watched and enjoyed the colorful, zany CGI-enhanced hijinx of Gatchaman Crowds, this looks like more of the same. Only now, rather than battling an evil alien, they are battling a faction of society that still believes Crowds can do more harm than good, using the same tech as the Gatchamen to create chaos to prove their point.

The visuals are as slick and lush as the original, the action is fun and inventive but never flies off the rails, and the soundtrack is as bumpin’ as ever (though it will be hard to beat the original OP).

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Why shouldn’t you watch? If you didn’t watch the first show, the three minutes of backstory hardly do it justice, so I don’t see why anyone would start with Insight. Also, while the show looks and sounds good, the messages and motivations of its characters can be a little loosey-goosey. Hajime in particular is a cool, likable heroine who gets the job done with a wink and a song, but rarely lets us into what kind of person she is.

The Verdict: I for one will be watching this “happy cyberpunk” variant of the magical girl/guy—genre. The tech is magical, but it’s driven by good old-fashioned, perpetually dueling human concepts of altruism and egoism; of hope and fear, with all the gray in between. I’m also interested in learning what the new characters bring to the mix, hoping they don’t make the show too, well, crowded.

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