Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 14

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I saved this episode for last today because (a.) I wanted to check out the Spring shows premiering today and (b.) with a big battle last week I had a feeling this was going to be a rest episode, and so it was. But it’s because AW has thirteen episodes behind its belt that it can do quieter second episodes like this that focus not so much on the upcoming battle with the Li twins, but on characters and longer-term plotlines.

But man, they really give Flora the floor early on this week, and her sqeaky voice is, to be frank, really frikking annoying. Seriously, if an anime needs a kid voice, they should really just hire Kuno Misaki, who sounds much more like a genuine kid; Flora’s seiyu is just doing a baby voice, and it’s baaad.

That being said, I liked the running idea of Julis’ mischievous brother using Flora as his instrument to indirectly embarrass the princess. As for Flora’s photo of Julis washing her hair, that’s just her own treasured memory…just not one suitable for Ayato to see! All the girls’ knowing looks toward Ayato when Flora brought up “Julis’ rivals” was also funny.

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Just a couple episodes ago, Ayato and Julis were locked in near-mortal combat with the Urzaiz sisters, but they came away from the battle as friends, which is why I so enjoyed Ayato’s nighttime Skype session with Priscilla and Irene. Irene in particular is one very adorable tomboy when she thanks Ayato for saving her life.

Naturally, Ayato says it’s no biggie…but it is, which is why not only is Priscilla want to cook dinner for him again, but Irene is willing to give Ayato all the intelligence he wants regarding her school’s president, Dirk “The Tyrant” Eberwein, including his control over Le Wolfe’s intel org Grimalkin.

In the morning, Ayato’s roommate returns after a long absence (seriously, I barely remember the guy), gives Ayato some advice on the Taoist Li Twins, and even suggests an out-of-the-way cafe for Ayato and Julis to go on their date, though Julis is emphatic that it’s Flora, not her, who requested the get-together.

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Flora presumably has something important she has to ask Ayato, but first Julis spoils her with a big meal and an even bigger parfait, showing her softer, kid-loving side (she’d make a great mom!).

Of course, not only does Flora inadvertently organize an indirect kiss between Ayato and Julis (which only Julis blushes about) but her ‘important questions’ were provided by Julis’ brother, and start with how far she’s gone with Ayato so far.

The fun is broken up by Korona, yet another new doll-like character with a high voice (though less annoying than Flora’s).

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Korona is Dirk’s secretary, and she leads Ayato and Julis (who won’t let Ayato go alone…probably a good call) to a custom Rolls-Royce Phantom limo where Dirk is waiting for them. It comes a slight surprise that Ayato and Dirk have never met, even though the latter has been plotting against the former and his school for some time.

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Too many times an anime cheaps out on car models, but in this case, AW got themselves a bitchin’ CGI Roller, and they aren’t shy about showing it off from several angles both in the sunset and in a tunnel. During the mobile meeting, Dirk takes the measure of Ayato and Julis and agrees to answer a question Ayato has if he’ll return the favor.

With a deal in place, Ayato asks what Dirk knows about his sister Haruka. Dirk knows precious little, but far more than Ayato: the last time he saw Haruka, she was an entrant in a seedy underground fight club for super-rich patrons called the Eclipse Festa, organized by those disillusioned with the ‘kid-glove’ nature of the official festas, but shut down years ago.

Dirk watched Haruka lose her match, but believes she survived (matches ending in a death or two weren’t uncommon). This gives Ayato simultaneous relief and pause. His sister may still be alive, but what state is she in? Dirk has no more answers; only his question, which relates to Madiath Mesa, who Ayato knows as Chairman of the Festa Steering Committee.

With that, Dirk drops Ayato and Julis off, after which Korona mentions Flora to Dirk, who is intrigued, likely because she can be exploited as a liability to Julis if and when the need arises to have leverage over her. Always churning, the Tyrant’s mind.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 01 (First Impressions)

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Who would have thought watching variations on the theme of somebody being always listless could be so engaging? That’s partially due to the fact that the titular Tanaka isn’t just listless; he’s a black hole of listlessness. He’s a listlessness enthusiast. He’s an artist who hones his craft everyday, always trying to innovate or to make his life more relaxing.

The magic of this episode is that Tanaka never comes off as a dick, or self-absorbed. This is simply his nature, his calling, and his passion, and if his best friend Ohta, who is one of those super-nice do-it-all perfect dudes can not only tolerate but embrace it, well, so can I. And I did.

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That idea of listlessness-as-art is carried throughout the various isolated skits that explore Tanaka’s listlessness in novel ways, including using sometimes long spans of silence or whiting out a scene for comedic effect.

There’s also a wonderful tension going on between stillness and sudden bursts of action, whether that action is violent like falling out of a desk, or an accidentally-thrown racquet, or subtle like the unseen injury of French bread cutting the inside of Tanaka’s mouth.

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No one other than Ohta, his almost constant companion (and straight man to Tanaka’s quiet gags) this episode, understands just how much workgoes into being as listless as Tanaka is. He truly works at it and thinks about it; it’s not just narcolepsy.

Unlike most people, Tanaka neither sees nor wants to see himself as the main character in his own story; rather, he’d prefer to be one of the background characters who may not be filled in or even have a face; a wonderful meta nod to a common anime money-saving technique that also features Tanaka trying it out by engaging his personal cloaking device!

As for who the main character should be, Tanaka is convinced it should be Ohta, who is almost as effortlessly active and reliable and popular as Tanaka is listless. What’s so funny is that Tanaka admires Ohta for being Ohta and vice versa, yet neither wants to be the other at all.

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While the episode almost drags on listlessly (likely semi-intentional!), the isolated skits give way to a slower-burn story that is built up by a fresh series of little events, all of which lead Ohta to believe Tanaka is having an uncommonly double-listless day.

That is, until Tanaka turns the normally upbeat song “Hometown” into a durge in minor key, then screeches at the teacher when she tries to brush something off his chin.

Then Ohta gets the idea Tanaka could be in love, a theory he tests when he enters the classroom during sunset; the kind of scene where many a love confession has been made throughout anime history (a fact the show knows we know full well).

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All it takes is a quick glance at Tanaka’s copybook to see all the reminders for him to go to the dentist to turn Ohta’s theory upside-down and explani all of Tanaka’s stranger behavior: kid’s got a cavity,and he desperately doesn’t want to interrupt his serene everyday life for an invasive dental procedure. But that’s tough; and Ohta carries him to the dentist to take his proverbial medicine.

At the end of the day, Tanaka is grateful to have Ohta as a friend, and Tanaka continues to respect Tanaka’s dedication to nothing less than the perfection of listlessness, and furthermore devotes himself to continuing to support him any way he can. And there are a lot of ways, many of them involving carrying him to and from places!

Finally, the episode closes with what seems to be an admirer of Tanakas, which is confirmed in the preview, in which this girl begs him to become his apprentice. Which is awesome, because Tanaka would make the perfect listless master!

Tanaka-kun is Always Listless was a slow-building and sometimes repetitive but always clever, witty, entertaining, and creative. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a nap…I need to practice!

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Flying Witch – 01 (First Impressions)

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Like Shounen MaidFlying Witch has a very self-explanatory title, and is also a lighthearted slice-of-life tale about a young person starting a new chapter of their life.

In this case it’s an of-age witch, Kowata Makoto, moving out of her parents’ house in Yokohama to live with her second cousins in sleepy Aomori, where she’ll remain until she becomes full-fledged.

She also brings along her black cat Chito, though he only speaks Cat, not Human. Still, the first thing that came into my head was Kiki’s Delivery Service, only Makoto isn’t living all the way on her own and doesn’t have to worry about money and such.

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I like the excitement of moving to a new place and basking in its newness, though by God Makoto has a lot of moving boxes!

I also like the very realistic way her younger cousin Chinatsu is initially weary of the new freeloader, especially when she hears her talking to her cat.

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That changes when the two girls go out shopping, Makoto picks up a bamboo broom, and starts levitating above the ground, a magical scene full of quiet awe.

Once Makoto takes her on a ride around town (which we unfortunately don’t get to see), Chinatsu’s weariness is replaced by the sheer glee of, well, having been flown around on a broom by a real witch.

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Another girl who doesn’t initially warm to Makoto is her cousin Kei’s childhood friend Ishiwatari Nao, who first meets Makoto while the latter is on her broom.

‘Alarmed’ and ‘cautious’ are the best word to describe Nao’s attitude, though Makoto makes it clear that besides being a witch, she’s just a normal girl who would like to be friends, and would hope that Nao bear with her occasional lapses into…witchiness.

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The latest comes when Makoto smells something and starts bushwhacking in a random lot to procure a “present” for Nao that turns out to be a Mandrake root.

Both the horrifying screams of the root and its bizarre cooing and squirming thoroughly creepy Nao out, and who can blame her? Makoto is her first witch acquaintance.

Flying Witch is a calm, quiet, earnest slice-of-life with tinges of supernatural-ness and comedy dispersed throughout, and Makoto is a kind, likable Amami Hibiki-type with a healthy tinge of eccentricity. A nice little feel-good show if you have the time.

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Kiznaiver – 01 (First Impressions)

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Hmmm…now this is more like it: a bold, brash, imaginative, absorbing counterstrike to the comparatively staid, restrained Kuromukuro. Space Patrol Luluco isn’t all Trigger is up to this Spring; in fact, that’s just an appetizer for this, the main course…KIZNAIVER.

Rather than beating around the bush, Kiz gets right down to brass tacks: this is a story about youth, pain, and the ability or inability to fell and share in it, as part of a larger plan to eliminate interpersonal conflict in the world, which has been around since we were in caves.

Rather than a literal cave, Agata Katsuhira inhabits an figurative one that protects him from physical pain at the cost of not feeling any emotional pain either, to the consternation of his friend and classmate Takashiro Chidori.

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His insulation from the work and from true bonds with other humans makes him a ripe target for bullies, since he offers no resistance to their blows or demands for money.

One such instance of this happens immediately after Chidori storms off (disgusted by Kocchan’s passivity) but another classmate, the Kamina-esque Tenga Hajime, steps in to rescue him unsolicited with the kind of stylish action Trigger is known for.

It’s here where Tenga learns Agata literally can’t feel pain, and starts having fun successfully testing that claim…when a striking, silver-haired class prez type appears.

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Agata comes to on a roof with the girl, one Sonozaki Noriko, who asks him if he’s heard of the Seven Deadly Sins. He has, of course, but she believes those sins have evolved along with humanity since their inception in biblical times.

Rather than pride, greed, envy, wrath, gluttony, lust, and sloth, she names new-style sins such as “The Cunning Normal”, “High-and-Mighty”, “Goody-Two-Shoes”, “Eccentric Headcase”, “Musclehead Thug”, and “The Imbecile (g/udon)”.

These aren’t just “sins”, they’re the actual personalities of five other classmates: Yuta Tsughuhito, Maki Honoka, Chidori, Niiyama Niko, Tenga, and Agata himself. The show does not shy away from specific, elemental personality types because it is the uniting of those disparate types that is to be Kiznaiver’s core dynamic.

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“Everyone wants to carve their scares into someone else…connect with someone else,” says Sonozaki. Agata’s inability to do so to this is the reason he’s…the way he is, but that’s about to come to an end.

In Agata, Sonozaki has found the missing piece in her plan to make the union of personalities official. She does so by shoving Agata down a flight of steps, an act of violence he’ll likely feel, even with his formidable pain threshold.

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After the town mascot “Gomorins” wheel an injured Agata through a disco ball-festooned hospital, he awakes to find Sonozaki, along with all of the five “sinners” she “quickly and precisely secured” (i.e. kidnapped) and performed identical operations on, installing something called the “Kizuna System” into their bodies.

She goes on to inform the other six that Sugomori City has always been an experimental testbed for the system, but she is implimenting it for the first time here and now. Kizuna System allows separate people to share one another’s pain. She says Agata only survived his fall because the pain of the trauma was spread among the other five.

She hopes that if pain and wounds were divided evenly and everyone could feel the pain of others, it could lead to peace in a battle-ridden world. The six she’s assembled are the first step. Notably, it doesn’t seem like she’s a part of this union.

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The other five subjects take off, unwilling or unable to comprehend what Sonozaki has told them. But when Niko suggests she’s just having a weird dream, and Tenga threatens to grope her, she smacks him with all her might, and all six subjects feel the sting of her strike, including Niko herself. After a couple more tests, it’s clear: they are now sharing their pain. This is no dream. “All for one and one for all” is their new motto.

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Not only that, but Agata is feeling pain now, something a girl in the very red cold open told him would come to pass one day. That day has arrived, now that he and the other five have the Kizuna System within them, making them…KIZNAIVERS.

The combo of Trigger and Okada Mari is an auspicious one, it’s fun to hear Boom Boom Satellites score an OP again (their OP in Xam’d is still one of my favorites), and the cast is stacked with talent.

Brisk, funky,stylish, and full of beautiful lighting, settings, and animations, Kiznaiver is a top Spring pick out of the gate, and may well bump a couple shows off my list going forward.

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Kuromukuro – 01 (First Impressions)

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Kuromukuro opens with a striking image: that of two beastly mechas with glowing katana dueling in a snowstorm, as samurai battle and lay bleeding on the ground.

Cut to a parent-teacher conference in which Shirahane Yukina’s advisor is informing her highfalutin’ mom Hiromi as tactfully as possible (though not very) that her daughter may not have the smarts or the talent to make much of herself, as indicated by listing “Mars” among her future goals.

Hiromi storms off, leaving her UN-issued phone behind, and both her mom and her friend Sophie (who also works at the UN lab in Kurobe) aren’t listening when she tries to return it.

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Yukina (voiced ably by Ichimichi Mao, who is also Space Patrol Luluco this Spring) has lofty goals but her motivation is compromised by being the daughter—the princess, in a way—stuck in the shadow of the queen, her mom, the director of the Kurobe Lab.

The episode does a good job establishing Yukina as someone a bit hemmed in and intimidated by her circumstances, who may just need a swift kick in the bum to on track to greatness. But this week she’s very much a passive observer, with one key exception (more on that later).

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Sure enough, a potential bum-kick arrives in the form of a rude invasion by a swarm of evil mecha led by one giant one, who crash landed just outside the UN lab. The security forces do there best, but are soon overwhelmed, and Hiromi (ensconced in a very Evangelionesque CIC) deploys their own experimental mecha.

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It’s at this point that Yukina, who happens to be in a lab where a large, mysterious, black, cubic artifact that was found during the construction of the dam, stops watching and does something.

Specifically, she hits the Big Red Button on the side of the cube, and out pops a naked man, awakening from suspended animation of untold duration.

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Having pushed the button, Yukina returns to Standing Around Mode, while her classmate Sophie pilots one of the UN mecha and takes out the giant enemy mech.

A smaller mech gets in the lab where Yukina is, and the naked guy whips out a katana and protects Yukina, whom he calls “princess” (which may or may not be a coincidence). He looks, talks, and fights like a samurai, and even has a samurai name: Ouma Kennosuke Tokisada.

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Once the small mecha is taken care of, UN police swarm in to deal with the naked man. Thus ends Yukina’s big, interesting day of watching stuff happen around her, to which she contributes a single button push that may just be the most important action taken.

Or it would end, but for another giant mecha headed to the UN Lab, along with another swarm of grunts. There’s a similar giant machine in deep storage at the lab, and judging from the configuration of the UN prototypes, it needs two to pilot. So I suspect Yukina and Ouma will be the ones to do so next week.

So far this is a heckuva lot better and more promising than the last P.A. Work Zane attempted, Haruchika, particularly in terms of production values. I’ll give it an 8 for design and a female heroine, and a 7 for overall story, action, pace, and originality.

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Ace Attorney – 02

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When he arrives for a dinner date with Chihiro and her sister, Naruhodo finds Chihiro dead, the sister cowering in the corner, and the Thinker clock and broken glass strewn around the floor. Just then, the police burst in, led by Detective Itonokogiri Keisuke, and the sister Mayoi (Yuuki Aoi) ends up locked in jail, suspected of murdering Chihiro.

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So Naruhodo has another mystery on his hands (including who called those cops so fast!) despite the fact he is a defense lawyer, not a detective. In Law & Order, you have two separate groups doing those two jobs, but Naruhodo does it all, and quite haphazardly.

What he isn’t—at least not initially—is Mayoi’s defender. That job falls to some mustachioed bigwig lawyer Chihiro told Mayoi to contact if she ever got in trouble. He seems willing to take on the case…until the prosecutor is announced: the intimidating, Undefeated Mitsurugi Reiji; he of the incredibly tacky office. Little too much crimson there, sport?

Detective-wise, Naruhodo finds Mayoi’s phone with her last conversation with Chihiro recorded on it (for some reason), and gets the actual detective (who seems a bit of a dolt) to reveal the name of his witness, the hotel room of which Naruhodo visits for a hot minute (and finds a suspicious bedazzled screwdriver).

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Anywho, virtually no one wants to defend poor Mayoi now that Mitsurugi is the prosecutor, so Naruhodo searches his soul and determines despite his personal ties to the murder victim and the fact it’s completely improper, he’ll be the one to defend her.

That’s fine with Mayoi, because that’s what she wants too after noticing how hard he worked to find her a replacement for Mustache, getting soaked in the rain and covered in sakura petals. They both have a cute little flirtation in which they ask at the same time, then both bump their heads on the glass.

So now we’re set up for Naruhodo’s second and by far most important case of his life, and Mitsurugi isn’t going to go easy on the rookie. We still know little of the case but small clues here and there, but I wonder if Mayoi’s spirit medium training will come into play.

What isn’t in doubt at all (at least for me) is that Mayoi will be exonerated and Mitsurugi will be handed his first loss. I’m willing to swim in this clunky sea of mediocre animation at least one more week to see how he pulls it off!

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Shounen Maid – 01 (First Impressions)

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Shounen Maid seems like a high-concept excuse to, well, put a boy in a maid costume…for some reason, and so I wasn’t optimistic about this show from the start.

But when the titular future boy maid Komiya Chihiro attempts to burn the letter his recently deceased mother wrote him because it’s too vague, I knew we were dealing with something with a lot more wit and nuance than I initially suspected.

There’s also something great about introducing his uncle and new ward Takatori Madoka by showing him cowering in fear from a little puppy who got away from its owner.

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Chihiro may be in elementary school, but he’s had to grow up much faster than most of his peers, both with a busy mother who was always away, leaving him to do the housework, and then dying, leaving him alone in the world…or so he thought.

In reality, Chihiro’s mother Chiyo chose exile from her very wealthy family in order to have and raise Chihiro—to live the life she wanted, not one chosen for her. Learning this makes Chi feel partially responsible for his mom’s death, which is ridiculous, but he is just a little kid, and this is a lot to take in.

I also liked how big and grand and imposing Madoka’s mansion is portrayed when Chihiro first arrives. His exposure to this kind of gaudy lifestyle is completely alien to him, but imbued in his personality is a desire not to accrue debts from anyone, even his uncle.

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But more than big and imposing, Madoka’s manor is a pigsty of the highest order, something Chihiro learns by accident when hiding in the kitchen, then noticing the appalling mess. Detail-oriented, fastidious youth with a solid work ethic that he is, Chihiro pulls up his sleeves and cleans like there’s no tomorrow.

All the while, it’s clear he’s not just cleaning because he can’t tolerate messes (though that’s part of it); he’s also staying busy in order to not be a burden to anyone, as well as to take his mind off the fact he’s homesick for a home that no longer exists.

Inspired by his hard work, his Uncle Madoka makes him a frilly uniform, of a design informed by Madoka’s work as a costume designer. There’s clear contrast between Madoka’s carefree attitude and Chihiro’s serious-beyond-his-years, “Those who don’t work don’t eat” philosophy; both guys are products of their upbringing.

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But when Chihiro is too exhausted to clean anymore, Madoka and his assistant Shinozaki Keiichirou take over, cleaning a room meant to be his. He makes them clean it over again when it’s not done to his satisfaction, but he appreciates the gesture and is glad, if a little overwhelmed by suddenly having a room and a (HUGE) bed all his own. This big, unfamiliar house is gradually becoming his home.

He also sees Madoka working hard on his costumes; often so hard he neglects food and sleep, so Chihiro fixes him a snack in the night. Sure, sometimes Madoka’s “hard work” is composed of indulgent little side projects like a cat mascot suit for Chihiro, but the arrangement that has been struck is beneficial to both parties. Madoka gets a maid (and occasional model), and Chihiro gets a home and a job to avoid feeling indebted.

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