Koi to Uso – 01 (First Impressions)

To combat its low birth rate, the Japanese government institutes a system of arranged marriage, selecting partners for its citizens when they turn sixteen. Romance between unassigned partners is FORBIDDEN. This…is a comically ludicrous system, but in Koi to Uso (Love and Lies) it’s the law of the land, and apparently it’s not only okay with most of the population, but has actually stabilized the population.

But c’mon, what the heck is up with that system? That’s straight-up eugenics right there. And when you dabble in that, you invariably end up with evil warlords like Khan. Thankfully, our two protagonists, Nejima Yukari (who has the same damn name as the system) and Takasaki Misaki (Hanazawa Kana), are among those who don’t subscribe to a system that coldly forbids them from being with the one they love; namely each other.

Unfortunately, the “romance” of Takasaki Misaki and Nejima Yukari is almost as big a farce as the Yukari Law. Consider: one day, years ago, after four class periods of hesitation, Yukari lends Misaki half of his eraser. She whispers “thank you” in his ear and smiles, and he falls deeply in love. Okay, he’s a little boy; she’s a pretty girl; fine.

But…But…that’s the extent of their contact together…for years, until he approaches her in the hall and asks her to meet up with him after school. After waiting about four hours, Yukari gets up to leave (after building sand burial mounds [??????]), but Misaki shows up at the last second.

When Yukari confesses, Misaki not only quickly returns his feelings, but the two embrace, have their first kiss, and then start french kissing in the space of a couple of minutes. After watching the slow development of a first romance in Tsuki ga Kirei, this development is waaay too fast and unearned. I don’t know either of these jokers! They barely know each other! I’m usually the one who thinks it takes too long to get to first-name basis or hand-holding or kissing…but this didn’t take enough time by half.

As if that wasn’t enough ludicrousness, right in the middle of making out, Yukari gets his government notice, but his phone is on the fritz like a TV, and he thinks he sees Misaki’s name before it cuts out completely.  Moments later, government officials appear in the park, at midnight, to personally deliver Yukari’s notice, which does not name Misaki, but someone named Sanada Lilina.

Did they use his GPS to find him? Couldn’t it wait till morning? Would a system as strict as this really allow such loose language about never marrying in its schools, like the kind we heard earlier in the episode. Devastated by the fake-out, Yukari then finds himself having to chase a distraught Misaki, and because she’s not on the track team, he catches her and they embrace once more.

So there you go: really bizarre authoritarian breeding system in an otherwise normal Japanese society; forbidden love that’s extremely fast-paced in its development, leaving no room for suspension of disbelief…and REALLY BIG EYES. Interested? No lying!

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Youkai Apartment no Yuuga na Nichijou – 01 (First Impressions)

Inaba Yuushi, newly graduated from middle school, intends to move out of his aunt, uncle, and cousin’s house, where he’s lived since his parents were killed in a car accident. When his high school’s dormitory burns down, he moves into a grand old apartment building that turns out to be populated by both humans and  youkai, which he didn’t know existed. Thus, Yuushi’s “first step toward independence” has landed him “somewhere incredible.”

That’s a pretty elegant premise, and the simplicity works in Youkai Apartment’s favor. The enjoyment of this premise is to be found in the details, like a seemingly normal, cute Kuga Akine who is actually an exorcist-in-training, or Yuushi’s favorite author being a resident, or his gradual realization that things in these apartments are something other than normal.

There’s a distinct Spirited Away atmosphere to the apartment, especially once the youkai start to appear, mill around, and interact with each other and Yuushi. But rather than not belonging in this nook of the “spirit world”, Yuushi and other humans (albeit weird ones) are welcome to coexist.

At the same time, while Chihiro learned what it meant to grow up, the message to Yuushi, who has always felt like a burden to his relatives, needs to relax and not worry about growing up too fast. He’s just a first-year in high school, after all!

The pleasant, easygoing, whimsical world of Youkai Apartment is, despite the presence of a few scarier youkai, a very warm and cozy place to spend time, and the slice-of-life nature of the narrative makes YA perfect Summer comfort food.

We’ll see how things go with Yuushi, his best friend/rival Hase Mizuki, Akine, and all the other characters human or otherwise we’re sure to meet in future episodes. This first one was an effective hook to draw us into its world.

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Battle Girl High School: Battle Girl Project – 01 (First Impressions)

Like GF Kari or Kantai Collection, this is a show about quantity over quality, specifically with regard to “battle girls.” No two girls are quite alike in hair color, voice, outfit, or weapon, and it’s a collect-them-all vibe to them.

There doesn’t seem to be any angle that might subvert the standard magical/battle girl genre; they’re just in a bit of a performance slump and their instructors have decided to put them through more training.

While the main trio of Miki, Haruka, and Subaru are introduced and a few other relationships and personalities are doled out, it’s frankly a bit of an overload for me.

The line between entertainment and advertisement feels so very thin here, and the “Irousu” enemy is generic to the point of afterthought. If it’s all the same, I’ll go ahead and skip this one, which while not shockingly bad, is bereft of anything new or interesting.

Kakegurui – 01 (First Impressions)

Suzui Ryouta is an unexceptional student at the prestigious Hyakkaou, a gambling academy for the children of the super-rich. Suzui gets into such great debt to Saotome Mary that he becomes her “house pet.”

Already, we’re into Prison School territory with Kakegurui, what with a powerful woman in charge, a mostly-innocent boy under her heel, and a mood not afraid to get a little kinky about it.

Of course, Suzui isn’t totally innocent—he did gamble after all—but he’s in an unenviable position at the start of the story, and feels like there’s no hope. That is, until hope arrives in the person of Jabami Yumeko, an elegant raven-haired maiden initially appears to be both the visual and emotional yin to the blonde Mary’s yang.

Of course, Jabami is way too suspiciously affable and bubbly; it’s clear even if one didn’t watch the sultry, hedonistic OP that she’s a hustler and that Saotome Mary is her latest mark. Be forewarned: is a show that revels in twisting up its characters’ faces to disturbing degrees.

Saotome challenges Jabami to a friendly game of the “Rock-Paper-Scissors Voting Game”, which combines RPS and an extra element of imbalance due to the randomness of the votes.

Jabami wins a couple of two-chip hands but also lets Saotome win a couple of far larger ones involving a million yen—all to put Saotome in a false sense of confidence while determining how Saotome is using the assembled voters (many in her debt, like Suzui) to cheat.

Once Saotome drops the nice act and shows Jabami her “war mask”, Jabami has no more reason to hide her own: buying back in to the tune of ten million yen cash before having what could be described as a “gamblegasm” whilst striking a pose.

The only RPS hand that matters is the final one, in which Jabami walks away with a cool 8.8 million yen (around 77,000 USD) after subtracting her initial losses. Rather, she walks away with Mary 8.8 million in her debt, which seems like a far worse place to be.

Suzui, ashamed that he was compelled to help Saotome cheat (which Jabami picked up on by spying on him with her compact mirror), apologizes to her and vows to drop out of an academy in which he feels he has no business being. To his shock, Jabami earnestly thanks him for the fun gambling she was able to experience on her first day, and drops a fat stack in his hand to back up her words with green.

And there you have it: Gambling school, weird over-the-top twisted expressions, some light S&M, and some (so-far) elemental but promising characters. MAPPA delivers a solid production with bold lighting, visceral sound, and a red-and-black palette appropriate to the gambling theme. Performance-wise, it’s a delight to hear Hayami Saori as Jabami shift from meek to meaty on a dime. Definitely worth a look.

Re:Creators – 13

One thing on which Oigakkosan and I can agree is that one of the best scenes of Re:Creators to date comes at the end of the very first episode: a smash cut from the serious end credits to the newly-arrived Meteora and Celestia going on a convenience store snack spree on Souta’s dime.

It’s a successful scene for so many reasons, among them that it establishes the clever fish-out-of-water dynamic that was later largely abandoned once the battle with Altair began in earnest.

It was also a strong indication that the creators of Re:Creators had a sense of humor, and unlike some Troyca shows, wouldn’t mind cutting loose and having a little fun from time to time.

Aside from some in-show commentary from Chikujouin Magane, Re:C hasn’t done as much as either Oigakkosan or I wanted with the potential established in that first episode’s final scene. Heck, they even killed off my favorite Creation at the time (Mamika), the one with the most ridiculous attacks and sound effects.

Fortunately, and quite to my surprise, that cheeky, mildly self-deprecating tack returns with a vengeance in this, the ostensible recap. It turns out to be more of an Osterreich recap, as Meteora delivers a fun and amusing fourth-wall breaking commentary, even embellishing her own importance and appearance in the story.

Where her potential had been somewhat dulled by being trapped in the show, with Meteora free to discuss things like the synopses of the various characters’ anime (often lifting it verbatim from the official websites), she morphs into a neat audience surrogate, and share her opinions on how things have gone thus far the normal format of the show wouldn’t allow.

The show’s willingness to pull Meteora, the talkiest of the talky creations, out of the world of the show and into ours matches the premise of the show, and reestablishes that first episode potential by making sure my smile rarely leaves my face throughout her recap.

Initially portraying herself as far “sexier” than she really is; taking great pains to explain why Celestia lost her first battle against Mamika so badly; criticizing Yuuya and Alice (AKA Grasshopper Glasses and Muscle Brains) for so easily falling for Magane’s deceptions; it’s all great stuff.

At the same time, we’re getting little glimpses and tidbits of their stories before they became a part of Re:Creators.

After appearing again as a statuesque, scantily-clad pool hustler (with the other characters represented as balls), Meteora saves her most biting verbal venom for the show’s villain, Altair, tearing her character design apart as needlessly, annoyingly complicated, and suggesting that the producers change her outfit to a tracksuit and sandals (which we unfortunately never see, but which I’m sure a fan will draw at some point). Badly karaoke-ing “World Etude” was also a nice touch.

In the final scene, we’re back in the conference room from the previous episode with all the characters assembled, everyone but (regular-looking) Meteora frozen in time while she walks around with a spotlight above her.

Here, before returning us to the “normal format” and those final moments of the last episode in preparation for the show’s second half, Meteora aims to assure those who are concerned about the future of Re:Creators that, far from a sign of diminishing quality and an “industry in crisis”, this recap was always meant to be.

As a recap, it succeeds in going over the various players, where the sides stand, and what’s at stake. But what makes it a far better recap than I could have imagined—and a more effective episode than some of the normal format ones that preceded it—is its willingness to let its hair down and have some fun with its admittedly cool premise.

In doing so it demonstrated bolder, more creative thinking, and gave me fresh hope the show will find its second wind. One thing’s for sure: I’ll never watch Meteora—or listen to her many measured words—the same way again.