Masamune-kun no Revenge – 05

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I’ve found that it’s tricky switching gears from Kuzu no Honkai, an R-rated seinen show, with Masamune-kun’s Revenge, a PG-13 rom-com that’s becoming increasingly harem-y. You won’t see a lot of girls posing with airsoft guns in Kuzu.

The two shows, while ostensibly about relationships between people, go about their business in very different ways. Revenge, even at its most serious, is still a much “lighter” show than the leaden Kuzu. I realize I’m not saying anything particularly groundbreaking here, just noting an observation.

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For one thing, Revenge utilizes an array of familiar, well-trodden elements from its genre as it progresses. Masamune truly wants to get Adagaki to fall for him so he can exact his revenge, but he’s unwittingly finding himself flush with women, due partially to his hot guy status, but also his genuine, if sometimes, reluctant, kindness, borne from once being on the other side.

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Put up against Adagaki, Yoshino, and even class-rep Futaba, so far Fujinomiya Neko is the weakest of the girls now in his orbit, for two big reasons. First, she’s less of a character than a collection of odd quirks (elaborate lies, going commando, fake blood) that doesn’t yet add up to anything. Second, like Masamune we know nothing about her, why she truly respects/admires him, and why she transferred.

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Her most interesting moment comes when she spots her competition, Adagaki (which had me thinking of and comparing her to Akane over at Kuzu, which I really shouldn’t do). But again, because we have no idea why she’s going after Masamune specifically, I’m not really invested in her mission to beat Adagaki.

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Masamune, meanwhile, ends up firmly back on Adagaki’s bad side, for, among other reasons not being more forceful in rebuke her advances. Adagaki is still figuring out what she feels about this guy, but it’s clear she really doesn’t like watching another girl get too close to him, or the fact he does next to nothing to stop it. It makes her think he’s shallow to fall under another’s spell so easily.

The two get to have it out, somewhat, when they’re punished for skipping class by having to clean the pool (which is oddly full of water). Because it’s a pool, Adagaki naturally ends up in it, can’t swim, and almost has to be rescued.

When pressed, Masamune admits he can’t help but want to save her, since he likes her so much. Adagaki wants proof: a kiss. Looks like the turbulence caused by Neko didn’t fully snuff out the flame…unless, like last week, another unfortunate interruption ruins the moment…again!

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Kuzu no Honkai – 04

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Whew…well that was a properly intense episode. In it, we finally enter the head of Minagawa Akane and find out what makes her tick and what she says gives her joy in life: being desired by men. She started back when she was in school, stealing away her best friend’s crush even though she didn’t even like the guy.

Indeed, she’s only interested in guys other girls desire; it’s how she gauges their value. It’s as if she only derides pleasure from her contact with men if she knows it’s pleasure being taken from other women; depriving them of it.

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Her latest victim is Hanabi, but what’s so insidious is that like her best friend’s crush, Akane wouldn’t even care about Kanai if Hanabi didn’t love him. Hanabi is unknowingly fueling her own despair by making it so clear to Akane that she’s into Onii-san. It makes Akane the villain – if you’re rooting for Hanabi. On the other hand, if you’re rooting for the one person who seems to be confident in what they’re doing, Akane’s your girl.

Akane believes it’s Hanabi’s own fault she’s in her predicament, but not because Hanabi has never gathered the stones to confess to Kanai, but because Hanabi should be on same side of this game. She kinda already is; Moca essentially feels for Mugi (whom Hanabi has) what Hanabi feels for Onii-san (whom Akane has). Akane’s become quite adept at taking full advantage of the situation, but Hanabi seems to lack the will.

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We’re then thrust out of Akane’s head and into Kanai’s for the first time, and while I didn’t quite fathom the scope of Akane’s true personality before it was unveiled to us, Kanai is pretty much what I expected.

Kanai is normal, boring, and enough of a romantic to throw caution to the wind when someone like Akane appears in his life, even though a part of him knows (and is correct that) she’s too good to be true.

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Demonstrating how experienced she is at this kind of thing, Akane executes a perfect reenactment of the way she hurt her friend when she separately tells both Kanai and Hanabi to be in the music room after school, then lets Kanai do the rest, confessing to an utterly disinterested Akane as Hanabi watches helplessly.

Akane’s eyes narrow and turn to see Hanabi, and then the episode fades to black in a spine-chilling close to Akane’s half of the episode. This show excels at many things, but it’s particularly good at transitioning from one “soliloquy” to another and keeping the flow moving. The fantastic score and cinematography pulls you into its dark soup of an atmosphere and makes it impossible to break free.

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And we’re only halfway through! Good lord, the first half felt like a complete, and amazing, episode. Thankfully, it isn’t all downhill from here. In fact, Akane’s actions drive those of Hanabi, the main POV of the second half. They drive her to finally emulate the one who hurt her.

I’m not talking about getting hot and heavy with Mugi again, to Moca’s dismay. Seeking comfort from Mugi wouldn’t be possible without telling him what she knows about Akane (the poor bastard). So she heads home alone, in tatters, then realizes she’s been followed…by Ecchan.

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Ecchan still wants Hanabi…very much so. So when Hanabi, in tatters, impulsively embraces Ecchan, then worries how it will feel to her, Ecchan assures her it’s all good. Hanabi this way is better than no Hanabi at all. Besides, Ecchan, makes no apologies for taking what she can when the opportunity arises, almost as payment for the pain Hanabi’s caused her to that point.

As they start having sex, Hanabi finds herself in an Onii-chan fantasy, but it’s soon broken by her waking senses making her see, smell, taste and touch Ecchan, and only Ecchan. Ecchan is ready to stop at any time, but Hanabi won’t tell her to, so she doesn’t. Ecchan wants Hanabi to be filled with her, and Hanabi lets her fill her void.

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The experience, however, leaves Hanabi cold and alone, walking home in the rain, with only her force ghost as company, taunting her for destroying a friendship, notifying her that she’s actively taken advantage of someone’s feelings for the first time, and congratulating her for being scum just like Akane.

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Her force ghost doesn’t tell her anything she doesn’t already know, it is her who is talking to her, after all. She’s having a conversation in her head, and the fact this part of her is mocking her means that she is no match whatsoever for Akane right now. But she wants to be a match, and she’s going to work towards it with everything she’s got. Dark shoujo.

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In one last scene, Hanabi confronts Akane openly about being loved by people she doesn’t even like, and how it can be so fun for her. Akane’s response? There is no greater feeling than being desired by men. Whether she likes them or not is irrelevant, as long as they’re liked, preferably loved, by someone.

It’s a “get with the program” kind of line; one suspects if Hanabi somehow fell out of love with Kanai there’d be nothing left of him to interest Akane. You can have it like i have it, she seems to be telling Hanabi, as long as you’re able to redirect your energies.

Indeed, Hanabi already started with Ecchan, but if she’s serious about wanting to be a match for Akane, she’s got her work cut out for her. And I’m not saying she should! Shit’s already pretty damn heavy. Everyone has their limits. She may just not be cut out for it.

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Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 04

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-5-50-36-pmCome on baby, brand me one more time…

The Gist: Kana watches human children go to school and feels left out. Seeing no harm in integrating her into human society, Kobayashi files the appropriate paperwork off camera and, along with Tohru, the three go shopping for school supplies. Wacky antics ensue.

Kana’s friendly-shy personality and physical abilities quickly earn her friends at school. Additionally, Saikawa Riko, the class’ unpopular princess with a shiny forehead, becomes her rival and comic relief. Antics involving older boys and domination of the dodgeball court ensue.

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The Verdict: As a reviewer, I regularly ask myself “is this an original concept or a gimmicky re-skin of a conventional story?” Dragon Maid feels like it is trying to be the former, with its andro asexual professional single female protagonist, but the simple fact is Kobayashi is just a male archetype with a female voice. Similarly, the misfit dragons are like any other alien/demon/magic user/foreigner/outsiders trope about fitting in (or not, wackily) with Japanese culture + harem elements.

This doesn’t mean Dragon Maid isn’t funny, nor made poorly. While mid-shelf in quality, the action sequences are engaging. This week’s volleyball sequence was especially dynamic. Similarly, the writing is often funny and each character’s kindness is appealing in a harmless sort of way. This week’s trip to buy supplies, where the dragons don’t know how things work, but everyone acts like a family and has fun, provides a solid example of that comfort-food enjoyability.

What puzzles me is when Dragon Maid appears to be trying to make larger social commentary. Take the value Kobayashi puts on uniforms and uniformity, as a way to reduce Japanese peoples’ natural fear of differences OR her shock at the cost of basic school supplies (Kana’s standard book bag was $100) OR the group’s response to the supplies available for purchase at the local shopping arcade, which were drab and unappealing to children, yet surrounded by elderly shop owners and signs appealing to shop-local. Tohru is even afraid of the mall, because it reminds her of a castle, which is a dangerous place for a dragon to land.

The entire shopping sequence is littered with commentary about consumerism and community, and it’s interesting…but, given Dragon Maid’s scene structure, which flows more like a sequence of short self-contained gags, this commentary feels out of place. Perhaps it actually makes the scenes without commentary feel lacking by comparison? Either way, puzzling pros and cons.

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