Maou-sama, Retry! – 07 – All or Nothing

In what amounts to a rolling, episode long battle sequence, we are introduced to:

    1. A Murder Clown, who is torn apart by Yu.
    2. Two zombie girls, who immediately get killed by Queen.
    3. The old knight “Marshal Arts,” who disappears without explanation.
    4. A sad demon girl, who dies and comes back after a flash back.
    5. The Prince of Darkness, who is killed by Dragonkin-Maou.

While there were many puns sprinkled among the character names, and it was funny that the number of Satanists in the battle would imply 1/3 of the total city population was Satanists, this was not at all a good episode. Constant move-names and pointless character introductions get dull fast and Maou isn’t even in the first half of the episode.

I’m not sure what the writers were trying to accomplish this week but the result was barely watchable. Ouch!

Granbelm – 06 – Okayish

Nene isn’t dead. Anna Fugo’s rage is finally explained and resolved. Dark Blue goes off on her own. Kuon has a cold. Mangetsu makes lots of soup.

Granbelm did a lot right this week but, like a super model striding down the catwalk in a pretty dress and gigantic clown shoes, it contradicts itself and cannot help trip over its feet in the process.

Anna’s confidence stems from mastering a fire-to-ice combo spell her mother and grandmother couldn’t master… except Anna didn’t actually master it. Ernesta did. This is a nice twist and shutting Anna down by replicating Anna’s inability, backed by Anna’s own mother’s words, and showing this like came from a place of love in Ernesta, tied a nice little bow around the conflict.

…but… this returns us to the clown shows problem. If Anna has never had meaningful power, showing her casting powerful magic during the tourney for 3/6 of the episodes doesn’t make any sense. Honestly, none of the relative magic power levels make a lick of sense but Anna’s all-is-nothing story hinges on something we have seen constantly contradicted in battle.

I’m happy Nene isn’t dead and it’s charming to see her invested in Mangetsu and/or Ernesta becoming the witch. I’m not sure I buy that her life long ambition can turn on an emotional dime like that but it’s pleasant and it moves the narrative onward.

Onward to what? Anna seems to be out, which means Dark Blue Is the only villain left. This week was a decent episode and there’s obviously more going on in the world than we know… but how that’s going to fill 7 more episodes? I’m not sure I’m looking forward to.

Astra Lost in Space – 07 – Accepting Hopelessness

When the unsubtle episode title “PAST” appeared in the corner of the screen, and Charce was forced to bring up his own dark (and monochromatic) past, it felt like here we go, another episode that sticks to the formula of revealing a character’s backstory in order to eventually strengthen their bond with the rest of the crew.

Now, that did happen, but it didn’t take the whole episode; just five minutes. That wasn’t a lot, but Charce didn’t mince words: he’s from the only part of Mars where a (technologically stunted) kingdom was allowed to exist, he was part of a noble family, and befriended a commoner girl, who was accidentally shoved off a high wall when police caught her in restricted territory.

She didn’t die, but one day her family up and left, and Charce wasn’t far behind, leaving the noble Luddite life behind. But he never found her again. It’s for this reason, and the fact he’d just transferred into the class before space camp, that he gave off a suspicious aura. But when they learn how tragic his past was, the crew surrounds him with empathy and affection.

Strangely, the girl, Seira, sure sounded like she was voiced by Minase Inori, who also voices Aries, whom Charce remarks is “just like” Seira. Cold Aries be Seira, her lost memories of Vixia and Charce a result of her fall? Just something to chew on.

But as I said, the repeating structure of the last few episodes was completed in the first five minutes. From there, we move on to the arrival at the newest planet, Icriss, which despite the singing of the school choir members does not spin, or rather has a rotation that’s precisely in line with its orbit. One side is perpetually baked in the sun, the other frozen in the darkness.

The only safe zone where there’s water, life, and food is the narrow belt between the zones. They descend through the atmosphere and encounter a bizarre jungle of immense plants and menagerie of equally gigantic animals, with some plants preying on the animals through use of electrical charges. One of those plants reaches out and grabs the Astra. That’s when things start to get bad.

With a series of evasive maneuvers, Zack is able to wrest free from the sinewy grip of the plant…thing…but the Astra takes damage. Zack loses attitude and decel control, and the ship will no longer yaw to port. He tries to ease the ship down but a gust of wind shoves it into some canyon rock, and the ship crashes and shuts down. That’s when things get worse.

Zack’s damage report is pretty dire. The Astra can move a bit, and is still capable of supporting life, but with a key reactor destroyed and no dock or parts or skilled engineers to repair it, they will never be able to return to space, much less attain FTL speed. He thus declares their voyage over. Their only course now is to find a way to live out their lives on Icriss.

As Kanata mentions while they’re still airborne, there were simply “too many things” that went wrong to end their journey, and they were unbelievably lucky to survive as long and travel as far as they did. But being commended for their achievements thus far is of no solace whatsoever. Quitterie, true to her character, has the most trouble accepting that where they are is where they’ll stay, barring extremely unlikely possibilities.

Zack is the opposite, calming down even more in the face of Quitterie’s panic, and it takes him time to drop the Vulcan stoicism and simply comfort someone who needs more time to process everything. Kanata, noted tough son-of-a-bitch, doesn’t claim not to be ready, but as the captain he recognizes he needs to give the appearance of being ready to move forward without hesitation. For her part, Aries is fine with waiting things out there, as long as Kanata he’s around.

Then, the game changes again, when Funi finds a second wreck, of a ship nearly identical to the Astra. Kanata, Zack, and Ulgar board her, and learn that she’s not spaceworthy anymore—though she could still have viable parts the Astra needs. While there’s no sign of any crew, there’s a message reading “Help me” on the monitor, and Zack realizes there’s probably someone in the ship’s single hibernation chamber.

Just before, he was suggesting to Quitterie if she really can’t accept living on Icriss, she could enter the Astra’s chamber and wait there in deep freeze for however many years, decades, or centuries it would take for someone to find and rescue her. Quitterie refused, but here it is, that very scenario playing out on the other ship, only it “only” took twelve years for someone to find them. The chamber’s occupant is awakened and revealed to be a beautiful blonde woman with pale blue eyes. And that is unfortunately when the credits roll.

Suffice it to say, this is exactly what Astra needed: something to shatter the status quo in a big way. Real peril and the toughest problem yet. While before there always seemed to be a way to science a solution and continue the journey, now in every instance it seems to be closing the door. Despite their smarts, talent, and moxie, the inexperience of the crew, even Zack, was exposed in a big way.

Still, I seriously doubt they’ll spend the rest of the show on Icriss, so between the second ship and its no-longer-sleeping beauty, there’s still plenty of hope to go around.

Given – 04 and 05 – Roaring to a Stand Still

In a delicious twist, Sato rejects Uecchi’s offer to join the band. Uecchi is utterly befuddled, agitated, and his google-fueled antics put Harkuki and Kaji in hysterics. Perhaps oblivious to the meltdown he has caused, Sato does exactly what he was asked to do and gets a part time job at the live music venue.

When Uecchi finally goes to confront Sato, old friends interrupt and STRONG IMPLY Sato’s guitar belongs to some one very special and very tragically dead…

Thankfully, Uecchi shakes him out of it and demands to hear Sato sing. The following episode is largely dedicated to Uecchi creating a song for Sato to sing and the lead up to their first public gig.

…Also, the episode reveals revealing that Harkuki loves Kaji, that Kaji has a boy friend no one knows about, that Sato is pretty damn good at basket ball, and Uecchi learning that Sato was dating a boy in middle school but that boy may have suddenly killed himself in an extremely tragic way! Appropriate, this last bit of news comes amidst a deafening roar of white noise punctuated by a hard cut to black.

Given remains beautifully rendered, even when it’s being ‘lazy.’ Seriously! The backgrounds and colors and level of unnecessary detail are insane. Episode 5 did take a noticeable dip, but that is to be expected mid season and it didn’t hurt the narrative’s more introspective focus.

I’m really enjoying the idea that Uecchi is the only semi-straight member of the band, yet imperfect knowledge may prevent each member from realizing that. I’m finding it even more interesting to watch Sato, who seems like he’s characterized as having a spectrum disorder in addition to being gay. It makes for some curious takes on his scenes with Uecchi.

Sato strikes me as a sincere representation of a gay male who’s not romantically into the straight male who is pursuing him. He seems aware of that Ueechi may not realize he is even pursuing him, which seems ironically likely since Uecchi resorted to dating advice to get Sato into the band. Now that the sexuality angle is out in the open, we’ll see if Uecchi reconciles with his own obsessive feelings, or if his obsession is purely based in the art of music the way he previously seemed to think it was.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 07 – Meat on the Brain

With the gym closed, the girls decide to take Gina out for a welcome party. Hibiki recommends her brother’s yakiniku (BBQ) restaurant where she works part time. As they chow down, Machio and Satomi hover between them and us, explaining that while beef is a good source of protein for bodybuilders, the cut of meat and even its source determines how much you should eat.

When there’s a slowdown in work, Hibiki takes a load off and tucks into a multi-thousand-calorie meal. Gina believes this is Hibiki’s secret to, among other things, beating her at arm-wrestling: the same ability to consume huge amounts of muscle-building protein as a pro wrestler, only she enjoys doing so! Of course, it’s just Hibiki’s “cheat day,” but she won’t be able to slack off on the other days.

When the others ask why Hibiki has to work five days a week in addition to school and the gym, she says it’s to pay her monthly membership fees and for all the food she eats. Akemi informs her that thanks to her older sister, chairman of the board of their school, gym fees and other training-related expenses are covered by the school! That said, Hibiki still needs to pay for her own food.

While sitting in class and half-paying attention, Gina notices that Satomi has a beauty mark beneath her eye that she’s sure she’s seen before. Sure enough, a quick check of her phone confirms that Satomi is “Yulia Riko”, cosplay sensation. When she tells Satomi that she knows, Satomi assumes Gina wants something in exchange for her silence, as, in Gina’s words, she’s “suspicious of altruism.”

So Gina comes up with a worthy payment: she gets to spend the day with Satomi/Yulia, including a one-on-one photoshoot and sightseeing tour. When Satomi complains of soreness after a nice workout, Gina introduces her to the concept of active rest, which actually helps you recover from fatigue faster than the passive kind (i.e. sitting on your bum and swilling beer). It’s all about aiding circulation of blood (and thus oxygen) throughout the body.

Their active rest for the day takes the form of a brisk but comfortable jog that isn’t overdoing it and enables them to carry on a conversation, all the way to Akihabara. When Satomi hilariously asks the tourist if she’s going there to buy electronics, Gina responds that due to her love of all things Japanese (and a few things that aren’t like Hong Kong and yoga), she’s determined to become an idol…and she’s taking Satomi and her new friends along for the ride.

The public idol audition they end up competing in is judged by a director voiced by Yoshino Hiroyuki (nice cameo!) who is tired of normal-looking girls with a normal level of talent performing normally. That is, until the bikini-clad “Muscle Girls” arrive on stage, riding on the shoulders their burlier fellow gym members. All of a sudden, things are a bit too abnormal for the director…with emphasis on the ab!

Rather than sing, Gina and Ayaka deliver an impressive sparring demonstration, while Hibiki does bench presses with Akemi spotting. Their final act is Satomi, hiding her face behind a kendo mask, performing a perfect deadlift, the toughest and riskiest of the three major barbell exercises.

Despite enthusiastic applause by the crowd, they fail to make the cut…partially because they didn’t sing anything, but also because they were just way too weird. Normal, the director concludes, is fine after all. Too bad; I would have loved to see these guys on tour!