AICO – 06 – 99 Problems and a Burst Ain’t One

The closer the team gets to Primary Point, the more tricky it is to predict how the Matter will react, and what will work against it. Kaede’s recklessness puts the entire operation in danger when the Beetle is damaged and they lose precious time.

Maybe it’s the stress of their environment, but all of a sudden the Divers I touted as consummate professionals are bickering like siblings in the back seat. Ah well, Kaede gonna Kaede, I guess.

Back at Kiryu Hospital, Isazu and Nanbara complete their plot to edge Kurose out in order to maintain control of the Area situation. As villains go, these two are pretty dang dull, sitting in cars and offices and calmly betraying their college friend.

While I understand Isazu’s intense desire to save his daughter, what good will reviving her, or the Japanese economy, do if there’s no Japan, or world, in which to live or prosper? If he’s obsessed to the point of madness, he hides it well.

One thing made clear six episodes in is that AICO’s forte is clearly not characters. Nearly everyone is either derivative, generic, annoying, or a combination of same. Take Kanzaki. We still know almost nothing about him (though I somewhat suspect he may be artificial too), except that he loves bossing Aiko around and otherwise treating her like dirt.

The person he’s dealing with is Aiko’s real brain in a fake body, yet he treats her like she’s a full-on robot without a shred of humanity. He’s also oddly petty in that treatment, even scolding her for trying to make the Divers’ rations more palatable. Maybe he’s curt because time is an issue; maybe he’s an artificial dude who resents Aiko’s emotions…or maybe he’s just a dick.

The show’s saving grace continues to be its action and the heightened peril the nearly omnipresent Malignant Matter presents. Our infiltration team is a bunch of tiny, puny humans who are only kept alive by highly sophisticated technology, the proper training and experience to utilize it, nerves of steel, and a disturbingly high amount of luck.

This particular episode also benefits from having Aiko actually defy Kanzaki, not only by making a tasty meal for her protectors, but serving an ultimately decisive role as resident Matter Detector. If she’d listened to Kanzaki, and sat back and done nothing, the mission would have surely failed. Nice to finally see some agency from her.

Their successful passage through a devilish gauntlet of active Matter from above, below, and all sides, the Divers also manage to work out their interpersonal issues, particularly when it comes to Kaede being a loose cannon. Kaede almost runs out of her famous luck, but is saved by the same guy who grabbed her by the neck and chewed her out earlier, while the rich kid loses an arm, but it’s artificial and easily replaced.

Some may actually be disappointed by the show’s unwillingness to pare down the admittedly quite large Diver crew; losing some players would certainly raise the stakes. Perhaps it’s holding its powder until they get closer to Primary Point…and even then, mission success is not assured.

Aiko may have saved the day, but attacking Matter has a deleterious effect on her, and the surgery can’t proceed if she’s knocked out and can’t be revived. More pressing is the fact their way forward is blocked by more Matter, while a CAAC team is hot on their heels.

3-gatsu no Lion – 42 – High School Should Be Fun

It’s still summer vacation for Hina, and she was so inspired by the town festival that ideas for new sweets are exploding in her head…yet those dreams of expanding her confectionary repertoire are being deferred by summer homework and school days.

Hina proudly shows her adorably delicious designs to a duly impressed Rei. When he decided to get into shogi, he believed it was his only path; the only thing he could do at the time. It worked out, but that wasn’t guaranteed.

Hina, looking toward the future like few eighth graders do, has a lot more options, so Rei agrees with others who have told her she really should go to high school…even if she ultimately does decide to work at her gramps’ sweets shop she loves so much.

After a not-so-fun year in middle school, Hina is understandably weary of going to high school, particularly having to make all new friends. But Rei has an idea. He takes Hina (who also brings Momo) to his school, Hashi High, where Noguchi, Mr. Hayashida, and the Science Club have set up a bitchin’ flume noodle stream out of surplus bamboo.

On first sight, both Hina and Momo mistake the mustachioed Noguchi for a teacher (natch), while Hayashida spots Hina and understands instantly why Rei wanted to help this girl so much. When Akari, an older version of her, arrives, disheveled and sweaty, Hayashida is nearly blown away by smitten-ness.

The noodle bonanza commences, with the lads adjusting the stream angle and stream to help an overmatched Momo, and showing Hina the proper way to catch the noodles. They then play a little game where the color of the accent noodle they catch determines whether they get tempura; Hayashida runs into a streak of bad luck here.

In any case, everyone has a ton of fun, which leads Hina and Akari to wonder out loud if maybe she should try to get into Rei’s high school. It’s an idea I don’t think has ever come up before, but I like it. I like it a lot!

3GL is equally adept at portraying the sizzling summer heat as the warm, cozy interior of the Kawamoto house in winter, as a serious time leap takes place in the second half. It’s new years, and Hina and Rei are under the electric kotatsu.

Ever since Rei heard Hina’s intention to apply to his school, he’s (a notion by which he’s clearly elated), he’s been gung-ho about helping Hina study for the entrance exams, putting the same passion and diligence into it than he does while preparing for a shogi tournament.

When Akari was Hina’s age studying late for exams, their mother once asked if she wanted tempura or fried tofu in her udon. Akari couldn’t decide, so her mom put both in, and thus Kawamoto Pampering Udon was born.

By making the same udon for Hina and Rei, Akari is both passing on a tradition and remembering her mother’s love while paying it forward. Plus that shit looks guuuuud.

Hina takes a look back to when she was still weary of trying for Hashi High, mostly because it’s a fancy and thus expensive private school and she didn’t want to be a burden on Gramps or his sweet shop’s steady but modest revenue.

Gramps, not one who believes kids shouldn’t think about finances, is chuffed that Hina thought of him while considering her choice. But he believes they’ll be fine money-wise, and in any case, his granddaughter’s happiness is paramount. If she’ll have fun at “the kid’s” high school after suffering in middle school, her choice has his full blessing.

Back in the present, Hina asks Rei for help on a math problem, but he’s so absorbed in his shogi study he doesn’t notice. Far from being annoyed, Hina actually feeds off the infectiously incredible concentration. In another sign these two were destined for each other, they are completely at ease without saying any words. Hina pulls back her window curtain, and after noting how hushed it seemed, discovers the first snowfall of the year.

A masterpiece need not always contain shocking revelations, twists, or developments, although Hina trying to join Rei in high school is a pretty big deal. This was a quiet, peaceful episode filled with fun, love, and ambitious yet very achievable dreams to aspire to.

The show created little pockets of happiness one wants to wrap around oneself like a blanket, all while organically building the very close and loving bond between Rei and Hina, both souls beyond their years. Few shows do this kind of stuff better.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 12 – The Butler is Up to Something

This week’s opening scene practically oozes foreboding, and Yuna D. Kaito has never looked more suspicious as he prepares tea for Akiho. Whether there’s something in that tea or not, the scene all but confirms he’s operating against Sakura behind the shadows—unbeknownst to Sakura, Syaoran, and even Akiho.

It’s also pretty much certain Akiho is the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, and that the dreams are being shared between the girls, with neither of them know the other is in them. All Akiho knows is the feeling of wanting  something the other person has. That thing is Sakura’s key, and Yuna seems pleased the dream is “progressing”, most likely in his favor.

By laying out some meaty plot progression right off the bat, the more slice-of-life ball sports tournament at school feels more earned and less like more stalling (though if you’re not watching Sakura at least in part for her high school slice-of-life…why are you watching?). 

It helps that the sports are a lot of fun, as watching BasketBaller Sakura toss no-look passes, crossover dribble, and nail shots from downtown is just as fun—and smoothly-animated—as watching her battle and capture cards.

The school doesn’t allow students to film the events, but Tomoyo finds a way around that by using Kero-chan, who is more than game to redeem himself after the playground footage debacle.

The sports tournament again demonstrates not only Sakura’s athletic skills, but those of Syaoran and Akiho, the latter two specifically in the field of badminton. I loved how seriously Sayoran was taking his match, which Akiho was keeping very close, and how Sakura wanted to root for both of them.

Just as she hopes for a tie, a surprise hailstorm rolls in, ending the match in a tie and sending everyone scattering for shelter. Sakura stays out, because she’s pretty sure this is a new Card. Unfortunately, as of yet she has no fire-element Clear Cards, and Reflect only sends hail into the building, causing damage.

Syaoran, still sore about not being able to put Akiho away (if he was even capable of doing so!), summons his fire sword to help out his girlfriend. His initial lower-powered attack isn’t effective, so he breaks out a bigger spell that stops the Card in its tracks, allowing Sakura to secure it.

It’s a great bit of Sakura/Syaoran teamwork, and shows that her friends will be there to fill in her weakness (in this case, no fire Card). Now, at least, if she comes upon a fire Card, she’ll have Hail to counter it.

After the battle Akiho comes running, and when she sees Sakura in the poncho Tomoyo made, she assumes it’s for another play that doesn’t really exist, but Sakura doesn’t correct her. That night Sakura turns in early, seeing as how it was a very active day and she overslept that morning.

Upon falling asleep, Sakura’s right back in Clockworld with Cloaky, who we can now assume is an unwitting Akiho, possibly working as Yuna D. Kaito’s puppet in the dream. She again tries to steal Sakura’s key, but Sakura grabs it back, and a giant dragon appears just below Cloaky, ready to swallow Sakura up.

She wakes up before that happens, and checks to make sure she still has her key before going back to bed. But she’s definitely unsettled than ever before. The figure is not only taking things up a notch in the dream, but perched on a utility pole just outside Sakura’s house. Some great semi-revelations this week that really escalate the tension.

That all of this is going on without any of Sakura’s allies’ knowledge makes me feel all the more worried for Sakura. If she were to lose her key, she wouldn’t be able to capture or use cards. That…would be bad!

Hoe Count: 4

P.S. Going forward, we at RABUJOI have agreed to use more descriptive (if not always the most perceptive) titles to our posts. We’ll see how that goes!