Norn9: Norn + Nonet – 02

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Last week’s episode-ending bang came from an attacking ship from the outside. One of its two crew members boards the Norn, testing Mikoto’s defensive powers and warning her that she and the other ten are the true “disaster.”

So begins an episode full of mysteries big and small, most of which remain too obscure to really care about. Rather than feeling all that enticed, I felt a bit left out as the episode kinda did its own thing, darting from one activity to another.

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It actually reminded me of playing a game with lots of long cutscenes, which while very technically impressive and pretty, are still cutscenes, meaning I’m waiting to get back control of the game.

Seeing Koharu’s powers in action was pretty righteous, but was undercut by the just-along-for-the-ride, autopilot feeling emanating from the rest of the episode.

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With the attackers repelled, the second half of the episode focuses on who their foe was and what they want. It is believed someone was “working on the inside”, so everyone suspects everyone else, and gets paired up so they can keep an eye on/out for one another.

In two of the three cases of guy-girl pair-ups, it is implied the guy and girl have some kind of unpleasant past that drew them apart, but everyone’s very tight-lipped on what those pasts entailed, only that they were painful in some way.

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Naturally, Koharu gets paired up with Kakeru, and they set to work replanting the orchard she accidentally incinerated, her love for him growing with each planted sapling and descending sakura petal. He even has a little fun with her isolated upbringing by joking that they must sleep and bathe together…ribbing that was more awkward than witty.

Then, one morning, while Koharu is watering her garden, some snot-nosed kid from 2016 shows up, having no idea how he got there. We saw him earlier in the embrace of a mysterious woman in a big pretty blue chamber, perhaps the core of Norn; now he’s out and very confused.

I know how he feels! This episode was a random jumble of strange events, mysteries, and clashing tones, resulting in a kind of indifferent shrug…and I’m only now mentioning the bevy of miniature duck slaves who serve the Norners their meals! My resulting impression was…a lot more ambiguous than last week. Ethereal scenery alone will not save this show!

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Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu – 02

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Now that Bunta has agreed to make a bishoujo game with Kuroda, he must be properly initiated into the world, which Kuroda achieves by leaving a choice selection of games in his shoe locker. She also shows him where the magic will eventually happen: the room she has reserved for the “Marketing Research Club”, which she helpfully points out is just a front in another quirky discussion between the two.

The Bishoujo Club has a producer in Kuroda and a writer in Bunta, but they’re short, a minimum, four more staff positions: for lead animation, programming, CG Art, and voice acting. She uses English-based acronyms to describe these jobs, but since this isn’t my first otaku rodeo, I found her explanations to Bunta somewhat redundant.

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Despite Kuroda’s belief his social skills would make him the perfect recruiter, Bunta brings back a bunch of unmotivated poseurs. Then Yuuka and Atomu barge into the club to look around, and Bunta realizes Yuuka would be perfect for the voice actress role (of course she is; she’s Hanazawa!) and Yuuka herself is interested in voice acting, even if she doesn’t much care for games.

That leaves Atomu, who isn’t sure how he can contribute, and fails to impress Kuroda…until the subject of dating comes up, and he goes on a bitter rant about how fickle girls are and how he wants nothing more but to abandon the 3D world for 2D paradise. That gets Kuroda’s applause, and she appoints him assistant director.

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Kuroda continues the initiation of her new club members by returning to Akiba. Strangely, Bunta acts like he’s there for the first time despite having gone there just last week with Kuroda alone. Maybe now that he’s into games he’s seeing the place with freshly opened eyes?

There, Kuroda shows them some very nice doujin works (including some by pros) and boldly proclaims they’ll create a game that will leave all the others in the dust. This isn’t a labor of love for her, results matter. Especially when her brother runs a highly successful game company.

After the group breaks up for the day, Bunta visits a maid cafe…where his classmate Andou Teruha just happens to work part-time in secret under the work name “Luka.” I thought sparks would fly, but both parties keep their cool, with Teruha switching from her normal deep voice to the bubbly Luka at the drop of a hat, while making clear her job will remain a secret (she doesn’t have to say “…or else”).

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After spending all night playing games he’s legitimately into, Kuroda’s next task is for him to acquire an artist. He’s not that good at discerning good art from bad, but that’s the person she wants searching for talent: if he’s moved by something, than it’s going to be something special.

Sure enough, while perusing the wares at a bookstore, he comes across a little sign drawn in a style that makes his heart flutter. His research determines it was done by  “Hokikiyo”, alias of the top-ranked-on-Pixi Yuuki Uguisu, who also just happens to attend their school as a first-year, and works at the bookstore Bunta visited.

However, she’s also a painfully skittish milquetoast, however, so the club’s aggressive attempts to recruit her fail at first (i.e., drawing her out with a love letter and then surrounding her menacingly).

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It’s when Teruha sits beside a frustrated Bunta and learns he’s making a girl game and looking for “Hokekiyo”, Teruha reveals she’s a fujoshi (another term defined by side-chatter), is familiar with her work, and helps recruit her, cornering her in the girl’s lavatory and bringing her to the club room. Everyone praises her enough to convince her to createart for their game, though she quietly confesses she really wants to draw for an eroge.

Teruha herself also joins the club as a programmer, and just like that, the team has been assembled, presumably leaving the rest of the show to the production of the game. On this efficiency, I’m a little torn: quickly getting the “building the team” out of the way is satisfying in its way, but it relied on an awful lot of convenient coincidences.

Also, and this is could be an ongoing thing if the two episodes are any indication: the characters all feel rather smoothed over, subdued; as if they lack sharp edges; Atomu’s “breaking”moment being the lone exception. The characterization and accompanying comedy often walks a fine line between understated and overly buttoned-up, even to the point of tedium.

I hope it doesn’t stray too far to the latter side. What with all the intros, there wasn’t a lot of time to go in depth with anyone. Perhaps the show will find a stronger voice once the game-making gets underway in earnest.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 02

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Well, it didn’t take long for the season’s top pick to pull away from the field: Erased is the best new anime we’re watching at RABUJOI, and it isn’t really close. This week it raises the bar once more, throwing us along with Satoru back to 1988. The setting is perfectly retro, from the stoically practical structures to the efficient boxy cars.

Satoru is, naturally, quite disoriented by this latest (and by far furthest) revival, as anyone would bee if their 29-year-old consciousness suddenly found itself in the body of their 10-year-old self. The early camerawork, detached and dream-like, does a great job visualizing that disorientation.

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But once he realizes what being where and when he is means, he races home, where his mother finds him dozing on the floor, waiting for her to come home from work. I’ll admit, I was not prepared for the emotional punch of seeing Sachiko again, nor Satoru’s reaction to seeing her again. Tears fell from my eyes as they fell from his. That’s when you know you’re locked in a story.

He’s right; his mom will look pretty much the same as she does here 18 years later, and that’s some good-ass genes. But the emotional similarity ends there. The feeling of simply living with his mom in that cramped little apartment, smelling her cook dinner, and eating as a loving familial unit; he remembers it all, but now he sees it in a new light.

He now experiences this stuff through the eyes of a 29-year-old who, from his perspective, saw his mother lying dead in a pool of her own blood onl hours ago, not the 10-year-old boy she sees. As such, his good manners and loving, grateful attitude throw his mom off.

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Satoru also realizes that now he’s back in a time before Hinazuki Kayo was murdered, he can act to try to avoid that tragedy. But first things first; he has to introduce himself and become friends with her. His mates misinterpret his attention to and desire to speak with her as a crush, and manage to arrange a meeting, which goes…okay.

Satoru figures out she looks to be a bit of a handful (“this brat is a pain in the ass” was a brilliantly timed line from his inner voice), but Kayo quickly sees a bit of herself in him, specifically that they’re both “performing” to the world around them. Now, for a minute, I thought she might be aware his 29-year-old self is in there, or even be a 29-year-old herself inside.

But neither has to turn out to be true, because the fact remains: they have a connection. It’s one they might have had if Satoru had approached her the first time around. Now he has the benefit of foresight and hindsight.

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Kenya, the wisest-beyond-his-years member of Satoru’s group of friends, seems to know what his mate’s interest in Kayo is, and instructs him to read her essay in the class composition collection, a short, simple, utterly heartbreaking tale entitled “The Town Without Me” (or “The Town Where Only I am Missing”), which also happens to be the title of the show.

Had he read the essay 18 years ago, he may not have seen it for the obvious, top-of-her-lungs cry for help that it is; it’s also chillingly prophetic. But he’s not really 10, he’s 29, and now that he has a pretty good idea of Kayo’s situation, he can’t simply stand by and let her be erased a second time. Moreover, he believes saving Kayo will sufficiently alter the future to save his mother, not to mention his framing in the murder.

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So he tells his mom he’s going to have a party in the apartment with five of his friends. She only knows of his four friends, and immediately assumes the fifth is his girlfriend. But one step at a time. Satoru walks to the park where Kayo is reliably hanging out, not wanting to go home to her physically abusive mother (a harsh contrast with Sachiko).

There, Satoru tells her the truth: he does perform around others, pretending to like everybody so some of them will like him in return. She can relate, and elaborates on his thoughts by telling him she often wishes that one day, she won’t have to pretend; that the interactions will be genuine.

29-year-old Satoru can see what’s going on here: as he’s trying to hide his social awkwardness with forced affableness, she’s trying to hide her churning emotions by presenting a stoic, uncaring facade. The problem as he sees it is, a 10-year-old just isn’t strong enough to bear that burden.

Kayo needs a friend; someone who will be there to raise her spirits and restore hope that things will get better; that her suffering won’t be permanent; that she needn’t disappear from town, or from the world. Satoru wants to be that friend, and judging from their discussion and tender meeting of cold, ungloved hands, she’s open to such an arrangement.

I desperately want Satoru to suceed.

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HaruChika – 02

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There are elements of HaruChika that I enjoy: the character design (particularly the eyes); the playful sibling-like interactions of Haruta and Chika; and in the case of this week, some legitimate emotional resonance towards the climax, as the tiny band attempts to recruit talented oboist Narushima Miyoko, who flat-out refuses.

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That’s where my reservations about HaruChika start to rear their ugly head. Only a week removed from the revelation that Haru and Chika are in a love triangle with their band instructor Kusakabe, practically nothing more about that plot point is explored, aside from the two perking up like meerkats every time Kusakabe enters the room.

I’m not saying the triangle should be the focus of every week, but it was disorienting to have a brand new character’s story (compelling and cathartic as it turned out to be), totally dominate only the second episode of the show, when we’ve just barely gotten to know the titular characters. Heck, we don’t even know why Chika likes Kusakabe enough to justify her as a legitimate vertex in a love triangle; at least Haruta gave something of an explanation last week.

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Another problematic element of HaruChika? The mysteries, and in particular how they’re solved. Sure, it’s all well and good to eliminate abnormalities in all sensory inputs (the strange smell tipped Haruta off to the idea of painted sides on the Rubik’s Cube).

But two weeks in Haruta has been pigeonholed into two very narrow spaces: his apparent infatuation with Kusakabe, and his vast knowledge of…well, whatever knowledge is needed to solve the mystery of the week.

As in all of the knowledge. And as with last week, he made a point to delay the reveal of his findings until such as time as it would deliver the biggest dramatic punch. It feels a bit like the writers trying to hide behind Haruta’s intellect and vanity.

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There’s also an element of pushiness and intrusion into the life of someone who didn’t ask for such intrusion that left a bad taste in my mouth, despite the ends mostly justifying the means. I’m as happy as Chika that Miyo decides to play the oboe again, but they had to put her through the wringer in order to get her to that point.

Who is Haruta to say it’s time for her to stop grieving and move on? Who are Haru and Chika to use Miyo’s middle school friend to infiltrate Miyo’s house against her express wishes to be left alone? I’ll tell ya who: they’re people who put their brass band’s regional eligibility above the privacy of their classmates.

“Haruta knows best” was a key takeaway. He may, and it all worked out, but it can be a little unseemly at times, whether he’s opening a wound that gets him slapped around by Miyo, or sneaking in a dig against Chika at almost every opportunity.

Next week’s preview hints at another member being recruited—they have a lot to go before they can compete in earnest—but while there may be another intricate mystery involved in bringing that new member into the fold, I fear it will be another instance of neglecting a love triangle that requires further development sooner rather than later for me to stay engaged.

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