Medaka Box – 12 (Fin)

With Medaka in the hospital, Zenkichi, Akune and Kikaijima are on their own responding to a plea for help from the new shogi club president, Mochibaru Sasae, about a missing king piece. After cleaning the clubroom, not only can they not find the king, but Akune discovers all the kings are missing. Akune seeks out Natayama Miri, the best player in the club when she quit when Sasae won the presidency. The council teases a confession out of her, simultaneously scolding, shaming, and encouraging her. Impressed with the council’s efforts, she returns to the shogi club.

So ends Medaka Box, what will be – barring a late meltdown by Accel World – the lowest-ranked Spring series we watched. Does that mean the series was bad? No; we don’t watch bad series. It was simply the weakest, when measured by our admittedly highly subjecitve rating system. But as the lilac punk-haired Natayama proclaims, You can’t blame someone for being weak. But you can blame them for not trying to get stronger. Even if it didn’t always excel, the series always aimed high. This final episode omitted Medaka, who, let’s face it, did her part for jade general and country. There was a refreshing quality to an episode lacking the show’s star.

The remaining three council members make up for her absense by stepping up her game, considering carefully what she’d do in their shoes, and channelling various aspects of her in solving the case of the missing kings. Zenkichi aggresively challenges Miri to a match, then calls her out on her childishness. Kouki follows with a lighter, more encouraging touch – something like a pretentious appeal to innate goodness. Kikaijima simply tries to say something cool (in an episode brimming with gardening and shogi metaphors). And it works. They still have much to learn from Medaka and each other, but they’ve come a long way thanks to her.


Rating: 6 (Good)

P.S. At the very end of the episode, a new group of mean-looking students appears and one of them says “To Be Continued.” We’re not so sure about that…

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Medaka Box – 11

As his showdown with Medaka continues, Unzen lures her back indoors and unleashes a volley of balls containing strings that create a net that stops her in her tracks. She counters by moving the school the strings are attached to, bringing down the entire building to wrest herself free. With no more offense or defense, Unzen admits she’s stronger, but she hasn’t won, because he won’t be reformed, and derides her trying to coexist with humans. Her final blow is stopped by Kikaijima, Akune and Zenkichi, who hold her back. She reverts to normal Medaka and apologizes to Unzen, then heads to the hospital.

Unzen wasn’t the most interesting adversary in this series, despite his strength and staying power. He tends to introspect and over-analyze during battles too much, shonen-style, which kind of slows said battle to a crawl. But he does make some good points this week as he increasingly realizes if he can’t beat Medaka, he’ll at least question her very humanity and existence with his dying breath. After all, what is Medaka? As this episode demonstrated, clearly neither a saint nor a pacifist. But he does see a weakness in her, and it’s the need to not only love other humans, but to be loved by them too.

Unzen dismisses her as an inhuman monster; a lonely soul who represses her true, godlike self so humans won’t fear and shun her. Unzen, meanwhile, is just another human; if Medaka kills him, she’ll be killing the very thing she loves. So it’s very fitting that Medaka’s friends refuse to abandon her and prove Unzen wrong; she isn’t alone. She has friends who love her as much as she loves them, and there’s no human alive she won’t try to befriend. Unzen can scorn her all he likes, but he can’t touch her spirit. And clearly, judging from how he treats his underlings in the aftermath, he doesn’t hate all humans.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Medaka Box – 10

With the rest of the DisCom neutralized by Medaka, Unzen takes matters into his own hands, walking straight into the Student Council office and scattering dozens of explosive super balls around. After a lengthy philosophical speech, he detonates them, destroying a large chunk of the school, including its main facade. Medaka is able to get Zenkichi, Kikaijima and Akune to safety, thwarting Unzen’s plan to off them. Contradicting Unzen’s belief she’s a perfect saint, Medaka’s rage transforms her into “War God Mode”, and she begins to wail on Unzen.

Sheesh, this Unzen kid can really prattle on at length. We found him more and more intolerable the longer he went on, and the more stylized his face became. We still have no idea what a tween is doing in sophomore year, or why he’s such a psychopath, but it would seem the episode made him intolerable by design. Even Madoka isn’t able to hold back and deliver her usual pretentious appeal to Unzen’s better nature. One, because there’s no sign he has a better nature, he clearly hates humans and loves killing them. And two, because he almost succeeds in killing her precious friends. Now he’s made it personal, and now he’s on Medaka’s bad side.

We’ve never seen her bad side. Zenkichi did, three years ago, so it’s not something that happens often. But it happens here, and we liked it. Medaka is through with diplomacy, and it’s quite satisfying to see her literally throw Unzen through the whole damn school with one punch. His submersible-grade uniform armor (whatever the hell that is) keeps him from suffering mortal wounds, so we imagine a brief extension of the fight is in order moving forward, followed by either Unzen’s destruction or reformation. We’re thinking the latter, since Medaka’s not out to kill some little misguided kid.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Medaka Box – 09

The DisCom Chairman Unzen Myouri ccompletes his introduction by destroying the music room and severely injuring the orchestra members as punishment for making too much noise. Medaka confronts him, flanked by Onigase and Shiranui, whom she is considering for Vice President. After Medaka survives his initial attacks, Unzen notifies her he’s sent DisCom assassins to take out her council, leaving her with only minutes to save them; first Kikaijima, then Akune, and finally Zenkichi, fully utilizing her seemingly superhuman strength, speed, and agility.

This episode really ratchets up the action and Gainax lunacy, as if the series had suddenly been infused with some kind of stimulant. We were dreading a week dedicated to Unzen – who is pretty irritating and one-dimensional – but fortunately he’s just the means to an end, and that end is showing Medaka in top action hero form. There are moments when it seems like she’d be right at home in Diebuster. None of this makes any sense in the context of a normal high school, but it’s clear this is no normal high school (the multimillion-dollar aquatic center was proof enough of that.)

And it does entertain. As Medaka is on her desperate quest to save her friends, she steals one assassin’s wolverine claws, borrows a pair of track spikes from Isehaya (they always manage to fit her in somehow), and what she does with a pink bike (the second defeated assassin’s weapon of choice, because why not?) when faced with a fortified DisCom barricade has to be seen to be believed. Just when we start to lose interest in this series, it bounces back with a energizing jaunt like this. Medaka Box knows how to go overboard the right way.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Medaka Box – 08

Onigase Harigane, officer in the school Disciplinary Committee AKA School Police, goes after the Student Council for their brazen uniform violations. Akune, Kikaijima and Zenkichi all relent, but Medaka refuses to change. Onigase tries to trick her with a fake suggestion box request, but Medaka foils her by jumping in a pool with all her clothes on. Onigase follows her in, and must borrow a revealing spare uniform from Medaka. Later, Zenkichi and Onigase accidentally get handcuffed together, and then to Medaka, and the three end up helping half the school out on the way to HQ. Zenkichi and Medaka deal with a pair of delinquents that had defied Onigase’s justice.

Color us pleasantly surprised with the introduction of the spunky, no-nonsense officer Onigase to the rapidly-expanding cast of supporting characters in Medaka Box. While initially a rigid wet blanket, who lives only to enforce the rules, a day of obsering how Medaka ticks leads her to bend a little. We like her personality and energy, and her tendency to change her voice from cold and scolding to warm and friendly at the tip of a hat. She exhibits good chemistry with Zenkichi, and even she is not immune to Medaka’s seemingly infinite charms. Thankfully, the handcuff bit never descended into fanservicey farce, and rather served as a kind of “tour” of Medaka’s generosity and popularity for the pink-haired policegirl.

Onigase doesn’t fit the mold of a villain-of-the-week, because like so many other ne’r-do-wells on this series, she has a change of heart and a humanizing moment after her experiences with the student council. The other potential villains of the week, “MetalWood”, don’t last long, as their wooden and metal bats are shattered by the Medaka/Zenkichi duo, who use their legs when they can’t use their arms. While we liked Onigase, we’re not looking forward to her chairman, Unzen, who is another one of those ten-year-old prodigys who is in high school for some reason, and breaks his PSVita (or whatever) for no reason.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Medaka Box – 07

In the first part, Kikaijima finds it difficult to strike up a conversation with her new colleague Zenkichi. After Shiranui drops off photos of Medaka kissing her, Kikaijima and Zenkichi break the ice by talking about Medaka…then she tries to take a page out of Medaka’s book by telling him he loves him and trying to kiss him. In the second part, the artist Yubaru comes to the council wanting Medaka to model for him, but she doesn’t work out, nor does Ishaya, Nekomi, Kikaijima, Zenkichi, or Akune. Shiranui answers the call, and manages to inspire him to ‘distort reality’.

With Shining Hearts and Dusk Maiden official off our watchlist, Medaka Box has the unenviable honor of being the lowest-ranked show we’re still watching. And while it’s not a very good Gainax series, and it has way too many boob, swimsuit, and lolisnack gags, but it does possess one quality those two departed series lack: it’s not a pain in the ass to sit through. The addition of Kikaijima to the gang (voiced by the omnipresent Ai Koyano) freshens things up, and we enjoyed watching her and Zenkichi squirm in their awkwardness, trying to come up with something to say. The episode is also replete with hilarious one-liners.

The second half introduces a new client; perhaps the most demanding yet. The picky painter rejects girl after attractive girl, bruising their egos in the process. And while we’re not the biggest fans of Shiranui Hansode, her clever role in solving both problems this week earned her some brownie points. Also, she didn’t stuff her face with brownies (or anything else) this week, she only talked about it.) Yubaru wasn’t interested in simply translating beauty to canvas; he wanted to capture the likeness of a goddess of potential from a less obviously hot model.


Rating: 5 (Average)

Medaka Box – 06

The Swim team continues to dominate the aquatic events, due to their extreme and risky methods that show no regard for their well-being. It comes down to the surprise final event, a cavalry battle that pits them against the student council. Medaka makes a ‘pretentious appeal to innate goodness’ by deducing their insatiable greed is fueled by past trauma, which turns out to be correct. Even so, while beating them in the final challenge, Medaka lectures them on treasuring their own lives and each other before money, as she does. The Judo club wins the overall meet, and the Swim club president Kikaijima Mogana agrees to join the student council as treasurer.

We here at RABUJOI are unabashed capitalists; it’s just how we were brought up. We too sometimes dream of owning an olympic pool full of money…or water. Scrooge McDuck always looked so happy diving into his money bin. Though when you really think about it, bills would cause nasty papercuts and coins would cause bruising. Not to mention the nightmare of keeping that much cash clean…and above all, secure. It’s more trouble than it’s worth. But it’s a nice dream. Medaka thinks so too, which is why she doesn’t urge them to rethink their lives – only to reevaluate their priorities. Money is worthless if you’re dead.

This episode still had a couple problems: Nabeshima and Azo are right up there in the running for most irritating characters (you could almost make a drinking game with all of Nabeshima’s ku-ku-kus) and Shiranui continues to piss us with her non-stop eating. But at least the Big Bad swim team was cut down to size and got some (brief) backstory:  brought up stinking poor, and like one of our cats, they think every meal could be their last, so acquisition is their lives. We also thought the totally ridiculous swimming pool with its NERV-like mechanical doors and seals was a pretty strange and funny little detail…here we are talking about how there isn’t enough money to go around, and yet this pool complex must have cost at least five billion yen!


Rating: 5 (Average)

Medaka Box – 05

With fifteen different clubs requesting budget increases, the student council must allot them in a creative but fair fashion. To that end, they arrange an inter-club aquatic meet composed of four unique challenges, the first of which is underwater ball-basket. Medaka raises the stakes by announcing she’ll triple the budget of any club that beats the student council, which is also competing, much to the chagrin of Kouki and Zenkichi. Several teams tie at 20 points in the first round, but the opportunistic swim team manages to earn their points faster than even Medaka.

Ah, just when we thought it would be one to two stores per episode, they throw a two-parter at us, in which only one of the planned four challenges is completed. By episode’s end, Medaka has performed well, but the cutthroat swim team did better, though risking their lives to do so. Her two associates are non-factors, as their flotation devices prevent them from reaching the bottom of the olympic pool (though curiously, Medaka’s natural flotation devices fail to slow her).

Does a two-part pool episode slow the momentum of this series? In a word, yes. We would have preferred if this were all wrapped up in one part. The color commentary by Shiranui (as she snacks constantly, as she is wont to do, which isn’t funny) is uninspiring, and her banter between fellow dwarf Aso is clear padding. The Swim Team, meanwhile, is equally ho-hum; we see two possible outcomes next week: Medaka beats them and puts them in their place…or they beat her, but she takes the usual high road. Either way, it’s likely she’ll change swimsuits at least one more time.


Rating: 4 (Fair)

Medaka Box – 04

With Medaka insisting he win for her, Zenkichi defeats Akune in their Judo match by scoring a point before he could score ten. His victory is short-lived when Akune is cut from the team and joins the student council as secretary. Medaka puts Akune to work immediately, tasking him with assisting third-year tomboy Yatsushiro with writing a love letter. When he brings his first attempt to Medaka for approval, it is summarily rejected. Akune changes his strategy and tutors Yatsushiro so she can write the letter herself. For this, Medaka gives him a pat on the head, and the flowers start to extend past the council room.

We’re definitely noticing similarities between Medaka Box and Sket Dance: obviously, both are about small but spirited organizations that help anyone with anything they might require. The difference so far is that Sket Dance’s comedy is typically centered around how they’re often totally unprepared for their missions, and the difficulties and frustrations they face. Medaka Box, which we like just as much at this point, is about people who are very good at many things. There’s rarely any doubt that a mission will be accomplished, it’s just a matter of how it’s done. Even so, Medaka would never call herself perfect or a prodigy, even if she kinda is; she believes everyone is the same and has equal potential for greatness.

Also unlike Sket Dance, we have a love triangle of sorts in play that really isn’t there between Bossun, Himeko and Switch. Sure, Zenkichi isn’t about to ask Medaka out, but nor will he allow anyone else to take his place by her side, even if it’s a platonic side. Enter Akune, who very much wants to win her heart, even though she’s stated categorically “she can never belong to one person”, which is a little haughty of her. But that’s what we love about Medaka: she’s perfect in somethings, and not perfect in others, but gets away with it. We look forward to the council of three swelling to four, as the opening and ending foretell a second girl in the works.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Medaka Box – 03

First half: Kanoya, a Medaka dissenter and former candidate for class president, tries to recruit Zenkichi to his side as he plans a coup d’etat. However Kanoya underestimates the depth of his recruitee’s devotion to Medaka, and Zenkichi personally quells the rebellion. Second Half: Judo team captain Nabeshima Nekomi requests the council help her choose a successor, but it’s really a gambit to get Zenkichi on the team. Zenkichi, who was avoiding the club altogether because of rival Akune Kouki, must now fight him, and if he loses, Akune will replace him at Medaka’s side.

I’m loath to bring up Game of Thrones in an anime review, but the relationship between Medaka and Zenkichi reminds me of that between Stannis and Davos. Davos needs no god or gods but his king, while Zenkichi needs only his princess. In both cases their loyalty is absolute; beyond question. So we didn’t have any doubt that when that loyalty is tested by the downright putrid Kanoya, Zenkichi would not only decline his offer, but put the two-percenter in his place. He’s simply not capable of turning on Medaka. As for a school allowing 30-year-old students to hoard pipes and maces in a classroom, well…that’s just a really progressive school. Like Waldorf!

The Kanoya incident was very similar to the Kendo club – a bunch of punks who needed to be quashed. The Judo club is another story, with two new motivations working in tandem. Crafty, cat-faced captain Nabeshima wants Zenkichi on the team; he’s good, and like Kanoya, she believes his talents are better used elsewhere. Her underling Akune, who’s known Zenkichi and Medaka since middle school, wants Zenkichi’s job. So Akune and Zenkichi will fight for the right to Medaka’s curvaceous side. We’re kinda doubtful Zenkichi will lose, and the pseudo-love triangle this episode wrought isn’t encouraging, but we’ll stay cautiously optimistic.


Rating: 5 
(Average)

P.S. There was a nice brief scene between Isahaya and Ariake that showed the staying power of Medaka’s inspiration, and her hope that those she reforms “pay it forward.”

 

Medaka Box – 02

In the first half, a second-year track team member comes to them seeking solace from a threat she recieved warning her to quit said club, along with a pair of vandalized shoes. Medaka narrows down the possible suspects from observing the note and shoe damage and sends Zenkichi and Shiranui out to find suspects. When they spot the likely culprit, Medaka asks her upfront, and she attempts to flee. However, Medaka catches up to her and decides to believe her false denials. Shamed, the girl buys her victim a new pair of shoes. In the second half, there’s a request to find a lost dog, but when Zenkichi and Shiranui find it, it’s a dangerous, bad-tempered Borzoi that resists all attempts to be caught. Medaka, who loves animals but is feared by them for some reason, dresses like a sexy dog and startles the stray dog into submission, allowing them to return him to his owner.

Sket Dance-style, Medaka and Zenkichi carried out two separate missions this week, as befits the nature of the suggestion box…there are many suggestions, and not all of them will fill a whole episode, whereas some may take up more than one; we’ll see. What we like about both this week’s missions is that they both reveal something about Medaka’s personality; things her good friend (essentially brother) Zenkichi already knows. That he can flash back to moments when he and Medaka were wee ones adds richness both to their characters and to their friendship. Zenkichi isn’t your typical led-by-the-nose president’s bitch. He’s here by choice, because he cares about Medaka, and wants to support her in any way he can and make up for her weaknesses.

Speaking of weaknesses, Shiranui did not ingratiate herself with us this week; she comes off as an overly surly little smartass most of the time, and that’s kind of her only note. We were kinda hoping the dog would eat her :). Meanwhile, the guests this week – the the despairing Ariake and even the petty Isahaya, were more likeable. Other things we liked: the badass-looking Borzoi that radiated evil vibes (a most drastic disconnect from the childishly-drawn ‘lost dog’ poster); Medaka’s stray hair swaying whenever she’s in thought; everyone asking about Zenkichi’s sweater; and Zenkichi’s line about usually being the one to deal with those Medaka gives a pass for their transgressions, but deciding to go along with her vis-a-vis Isahaya.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Medaka Box – 01

Hitoyoshi Zenkichi’s overachieving childhood friend Medaka Kurokami has won the election for student council president by a 98% landslide, and just knows that she’ll drag him into her business. She starts up a suggestion box, and the first request asks her to clear the kendo dojo of the punks who hang out there. She convinces them to pick up kendo and the dojo is cleaned. The person who submitted the suggestion, one Hyuga, tries to intimidate the reformed punks, but they stand up to him, and Zenkichi punches him. Medaka proceeds to fulfill another request by improving Hyuga’s rotten personality. Zenkichi agrees to stay by her side, as always.

When we learn that Gainax is doing a new series, we’re going to take a look by default, since we know their work will rarely disappoint. This premiere validated our policy; Medaka Box is hardly flawless, but it is a bright, fresh, and confident school series that does a good job laying out what it’s about and who the players are. We’re particularly smitten with President Medaka who is brimming with charisma. Sure, she looks down on people (and indeed the rest of the universe) but at her core she’s a kind person who only wants to help…even if you don’t know you need it. Her boobs are a little on the big side, but overall the moderate levels of fanservices didn’t concern us, because it wasn’t the only note the episode played.

Aki Toyosaki voices Medaka, and after Last Exile’s cutesy-voiced Fam, it’s good to hear the throaty, assertive Aki. When she’s talking, people just have to listen. We also like Zenkichi Hiroyoshi, the male protagonist who has known her since they were two (i.e., their whole lives). He’s neither weak, nor boring or annoying. Even if he has no idea why, he’s Medaka’s rock; and he can’t help but support her in her new role as Queen of School. A pleasant setting, colorful characters, sprightly action, quick pacing, and plenty of energy and charm – there’s not much we dislike here. Good start.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)