Machikado Mazoku – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Think This Means You’ve Won!

One morning Yoshida Yuuko wakes up with horns and a tail, and her mother reveals that her family are descendents of the “Dark Clan,” whose powers were sealed by the Magical Girls of the “Light Clan” long ago. It’s why her family lives in poverty. But now that she bears the horns and tail of a demon girl, she is named “Shadow Mistress Yuuko” (sent by fax) and must seek out and defeat a Magical Girl in order to restore her clan’s former glory!

The casual blending of the supernatural and the mundane, and the superb, energetic performance of Kohara Konomi, form the beating heart of this slick little slice-of-life comedy that’s also a charming underdog story and a send up of the demon/magical girl genre in which it operates. The moment the town’s magical girl, Chiyoda Momo, rescues her “mortal enemy” from a truck (transforming in just 0.01 seconds!), you know this is going to be a wonderfully extreme mismatch.

At school (which the narrator describes very literally when Yuuko asks “What’s up with this school?”), Yuuko’s friends don’t seem all that concerned with her horns, and soon point her in the direction of Chiyoda Momo, for whom Yuuko is absolutely no match.

Yuuko flubs her words when trying to formally initiate a duel, and Momo doesn’t bother dodging her attacks, letting Yuuko wear herself out. Like when she rescued and then fed her, Momo, while polite, is just barely restraining her arrogance and superiority.

Unlike Yuuko, Momo is rolling in cash from the look of her postmodern mansion and chic decor—but she seems to live all alone with her cat, no one to share all that square footage. She’s bored and alone! When she saved Yuuko it had been a long time since she even had to transform.

Even if they’ll remain “mortal enemies”, perhaps Yuuko could be someone to make things interesting in Momo’s life for a change. As for Yuuko, she’s resolved to improve her offensive capabilities (leveling up from…Level 0), training beside the river as her sister spots her. As she exclaims every time she’s retreated from a fight she knows she’d lose, Momo hasn’t won yet—not as long as Yuuko still has the will to fight.

Machikado Mazoku is a lot of fun, and is backed up by above-average production values and exquisite attention to detail (Momo wears Crocs! The background characters play very goofy games!). It constantly makes fun of itself with characters’ side commentary, and the jokes-per-minute ratio is quite good. All in all, a solid way to spend twenty minutes of your Thursday afternoon.

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Given – 01 – Boys in the Band

Mafuyu Sato lives his life in a dream state. He wakes each day from the same nightmare, fear gripping Sato’s body only as tightly as his grips the neck of his guitar. The guitar he carries but has no idea how to play. He is a mystery.

Ritsuka Uenoyama lives a life of diminishing purpose. He commands great skill with his guitar, but as he sharpened his art, he dulled his passion. He is tired but awake. He lives with with his art-def sister and his father gave him his first guitar. There is no mystery in his life. Only routine.

Sato and Uenoyama meet by chance at Uenoyama’s favorite nap spot, nestled behind the gym. Then Sato witnesses Uenoyama play, and Uenoyama’s bandmates witness Uenoyama in rare form. Slowly, bonds begin to form…

Given is, by miles, the most interesting anime running this season. Given is very good looking, though this is more due to great use of color, lighting and character design than actual animation. Given is also very good sounding.

However, what makes Given sing and shine is solid crafting of characters and storytelling. The nuance of how Uenoyama and Sato are living opposite parts of life makes it special. The choices of how we see that play out, without dialog or other characters telling makes it masterful.

Given does not have the artcraft value of Yuri on Ice but Given nails the depression and challenge of being an artist, and of an artist feeling love, with an equally flawless sincerity. You owe it to yourself to check it out.

Maou-sama, Retry! – 02 – Spanking The Priestess

In no particular hurry, this week’s Demon Lord adventure starts by building a residence with items from Maou’s pocket and having Aku take a bath. Maou remarks that she finally smells nice, which is a questionable observation to make while he is smoking cigarettes.

After defeating the mole-bandit tribe and spanking the Holy Maiden “Golden Luna Elegant,” Mou buys Aku some pretty dresses before going to a fancy restaurant for dinner. Elegant joins them and the other patrons note Maou’s refined taste in wine. However, it appears that neither Maou nor Aku eat the salad or dinner roles included with the meal.

Then all three go back to Maou’s expensive hotel room and settle in for a quiet evening.

MSR’s backgrounds look like posterized photography and the music design is weird too. Chiptune came blaring out of nowhere leading up to the bandit fight, only to be cut off by rock cords and then dead silence, mid way through the battle. These elements give the show a ‘made in my basement’ B-quality feel.

Maou’s response to being in another world is boredom, marked with occasional rambling dialog that no one can follow. That bandit really looks like his manager. That pronunciation sounds like Shenmue. Man he really misses Shenmue…

From animation to writing, MSR is utterly incompetent and I cannot stop laughing at it.

Ultimately your milage with MSR will depend on your enjoyment of it’s lazy production values and flippant humor. While both of these elements work to tease the other-world genre, MSR doesn’t seem entirely self aware. Sure, going to another world that was based on a poorly constructed video game that you’d worked on for several years probably would be underwhelming… but making an audience sit through that experience is a risky proposition.

MSR also tries to make some jokes about an accommodating, possibly homosexual clothing shop owner that fall flat. It’s not skin crawlingly awful but, when you include spankings and Aku’s lack of agency, theres definitely a regressive vibe.

If you’re good with that, MSR is laugh out loud terrible and I’m loving every minute!

UchiMusume – 02 – Dead Dad and Rainbows

Dale and Latina are settling into their new routine as young adventure dad and adopted demon girl… and Latina is doing a much better job! She’s learning human language very quickly, helping prepare food and cleaning around the pub. These efforts are melting thuggish hearts left and right but Dale is an emo mess.

Buckling under Rita’s stern guidance, he lets Latina join Ken on a shopping trip and buggers off to work. As luck would have it, Latina gets lost on said trip but makes friends with a pack of local kids by the end.

She also shows us that she can cast magic and tragic love for rainbows.

The Good: UchiMusume nails all the feels about watching children grow up, including the nervous adults watching it happen. It also sneaks in subtle world building elements, like side conversations about work scarcity and the dysfunction of job searching now that quests get posted to the internet/magic job board.

The Bad: Dear lord was Dale’s OTT character shift hard to watch. From gushing over Latina’s cute pronunciation errors to moping at the bar, his characterization lost the grounding it carried last week.

The Verdict: Episode two continues UM’s trip down safe-feels-lane but it wasn’t uneventful. Better editing and less Dale could have added contrast to Latina getting lost but it worked as a platform to introduce more kids her age to the plot. It was also fun to learn that Dale’s part of town is the sketchy part of town in the eyes of the rest of the city.

My concerns are long term. UM has to be about more than cuteness and more than day to day life at a pub in a magic world. Introducing the mystery of Latina’s broken horn and dead dad and the hints that some crime may be involved will feel cheap otherwise.

For now, the cuteness is good enough. Bring on all the feels!

Carole & Tuesday – 13 – Army of Two Steps Back

I’m not sure why every episode of Carole & Tuesday needs to begin by reminding us about the “Miraculous Seven Minutes” that haven’t happened yet, as if we forgot. We get it: they’ll set it into motion! It will change Mars forever! Shut up about it, would ya?!

For now, all C&T get for not winning, but also not quite losing, Mars Brightest is a lot of notoriety, not all of it welcome. They muddle through talk shows and interviews, while Angela, owner of a new contract with a 20 million Woolong singing bonus, has already released her first single.

It features such stirring slogans as “breaking chains”, “keep moving”, “taking control”, “today’s a new day”, and “find my heaven,” collections of words no one has ever thought to put together before! New day, same crappy lyrics.

C&T’s new fame is earning them zero Woolongs but plenty of headaches. At a laundromat, Tuesday is surrounded by brusque gents, and is only saved further harassment by the intervention of a fellow clothes-washer who is probably Carole’s long-lost father (or at least, we’re supposed to wonder if that’s who he is).

When Gus and Dahlia cross paths, they’re all smiles and passive aggression, but Angela cuts through the crap: C&T better get their heads out of the clouds and start making hits soon, or else she’s going to leave them in the dust come Mars Grammy time. Heck, she’ll probably leave them in the dust anyway, but like Mars Brightest, she still wants a fair fight.

There’s nothing fair about the contract meeting at Brightest Records, the studio run by Catherine. As Tuesday’s suddenly very Trump-like mom starts talking about deporting illegal immigrants (which makes one ask the uncomfortable, what exactly is Carole’s official immigration status?) Gus rejects Cathy’s offer without consulting the girls, taking money out pockets and food out of their mouths without any guarantee of alternate sources of income.

Daddy Gus has simply decided, unilaterally, that C&T are going to be an indie group, selling their songs online to “boost their commercial value” and make their negotiating position better. And the girls just…allow it. It’s baffling; they’re just not developed enough as a group to be turning down reasonable offers; not when it’s really past time they started, you know, earning money to “live” and “eat”.

And don’t get me started on Gus dragging them to the rougher side of town to play an impromptu concert no one there asked for, all to lure out a “genius producer” who loves swinging a goddamned ax around. But hey, I guess it will all work out. Those Miraculous Seven Minutes are coming, or so they say! I just don’t know if I’m going to make it there…