Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 06

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Last week lagged but gave us some nice character beats. This week was breathless but moved the plot forward…and gave us some more nice character beats. Frankly, I was impressed with how much ground this episode covered, though it features the same uneven and at times downright ugly production values that have plagued this show from the start.

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Hey, looks don’t make an anime, they only help. Mikagura keeps me around because of its fun, optimistic outlook and colorful, likable cast of misfits, led by Eruna, the most misfitty of them all, while occupying that rare, slim space between endearing and annoying. Despite everything she does and says, she manages not to come off as trying too hard. And as we see from the turnout at her surprise pep rally, I’m not alone in liking her.

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As the rookie battles proceed apace, Kuzuryu is kind of in a creative rut, looking for inspiration. All the praise, admiration, and accolades he’s received in the past and is sure to receive in the future don’t matter if he himself isn’t satisfied with his own work. Shigura gives Eruna the story of how he and Kuzuryu once attended Mikagura’s sports-focused sister school, but he was punished for his exceptional talent with ostracization.

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Natch, despite the fact she’s in the middle of a tournament, Eruna comes to Kuzuryu’s aid, requesting that he draw her—nude, if necessary. Her visit is brief, but refreshing to the troubled painter, who betrays a smile after seeing her off to go watch Tonkyun avenge Usamaru, making him promise to watch her when it’s her turn to fight.

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Tonkyun does indeed defeat Azumi without too much of a fuss, discerning that her main (and really only) attack has both a time limit and a re-charging time. Azumi had been winning battles by ending them quickly before that time limit is up and hiding out of reach of her opponent when it is. In the end, Azumi wasn’t anything more complicated than a mustache-twirling villain, but it was still satisfying to see her get her just desserts.

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That’s a little disappointing, but the ep makes up for it by having a bonus battle between Eruna and Tonkyun. Tonky’s observed and analyzed Eruna as he did Azumi, and like Azumi Eruna’s tactics aren’t all that complex, so I really didn’t know who was going to win this one, an uncertainty I enjoyed after Azumi’s certain, somewhat boring defeat.

But Eruna has a trick up her sleeve in the form of a gun and bayonet Tonkyun didn’t take into his calculations, so it’s her win. As with Himi and Meika, Tonkyun is gracious in defeat, not only because Eruna is clearly somebody special, but because they had fun fighting with her.

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Kuzuryu (and Seisa, who doesn’t have much to do this week at all) watches Eruna’s match from a monitor, and it inspires him to paint what he observes. Eruna became his muse, which was probably how she intended to help him after she picked up on his creative block.

Unfortunately, Eruna’s run for the rookie championship ends in the round after Tonkyun, as the broadcast club chick did her homework and beat her easily in another off-camera battle. It’s the end of a run, but hey, she did get to promote her “Surround Ichinomiya Eruna With Cute Girls Club”, and she also got Kuzuyru to paint her picture! About that: it’s abstract art, so it looks more like a satellite photo or Civ III  map than Eruna, which disappoints her somewhat.

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As for the cute girls Eruna wants to surround herself with, we get our first glimpse at one of the school’s cutest, Fujishiro Otone. Eruna first lays eyes on her standing over the soundly beaten tournament favorite, Imizu, twirling her hair.

If there’s one thing Eruna loves more than a cute girl, it’s a tough-as-nails cute girl who will put up a challenge. As she herself was to Kuzuryu this week, girls like Seisa, Himi, Meika, Nyamirin, and soon Otone are her muses. They’re why she gets up in the morning, and strives to become stronger every day.

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P.S. This will probably be my last Mikagura review, at least of this length, due to middling ratings low readership.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 05

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This week, Eruna dicks around at the school festival taking place during the rookie bracket battle, and basically has fun with many of her various classmates through festival activities. It’s predominantly a slice-of-life episode, and so it had a tendency to lag compared to its more exciting previous episodes…even when it’s trying to make a battle out of shooting a life-size Miracle Man figure.

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The fact it’s a festival episode means it’s full of extras, and they’re all colorless, which doesn’t strike me as a stylistic choice so much as a financial one. Through five weeks Mikagura and Re-Kan! are in an unenviable dead heat for worst-looking show on my docket, but at least Re-Kan! looks finished, and is way better with the treatment of light.

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Still, slow and sloppy as this episode was, there was still plenty to like. Even if she’s not in a club yet (and unfortunately came no closer to forming one or even coming up with an idea for one), she’s still pretty popular both among her fellow After School Six first-years and the seasoned senpais. And while her lustful shtick can grow repetitive, there’s never any doubt why all her fellow students like her, because she’s just a super-likable character with uncommon energy and optimism.

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Her interaction with Yuuta, Minatogawa, and Seisa has the result of lifting their spirits, to the point where Seisa is smiling and enjoying Eruna fawning over her in spite of herself.

would have liked to root for Eruna in her next battle, but in one of the episode’s most annoying choices (and possibly one made due to budget constraints), it’s skipped over…completely. She wins and moves on to the third round, but I felt cheated!

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Our consolation fight is between the odd-eyed Usamaru and Azumi Sagara, the first-year ranked second only to Asuhi (Telescope Kid). Because she’s cute and he’s shallow, Usamaru is hoping to hit it off with Azumi in their match, but in an interesting twist, Azumi not only dominates him with her (cheap to animate!) sound-gravity manipulation, but smugly mocks and derides him for deigning to try when he had no chance.

If nothing else, I left this episode wanting someone—hopefully Eruna—to take this haughty, malicious young lady down a couple of pegs in a future round. You can never tell a book from its cute cover.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 04

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Remember kids, if you don’t smile properly, your mother will pick your perfect little brother who can and run off, leaving you with your dad!

This episode wasn’t just about Eruna developing her powers in preparation for the rookie bracket battle, but about her making friends with the drama club rookies and their leader Akama Yuuto, whom she learns is hiding his true nature from her and everyone else. Oooo…

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First, I wanted to just mention the genius of Eruna having a very pleasant dream about unzipping Seisa’s dress in her bedchamber, but it’s really only the zipper of her sleeping bag in the hallway. Seisa’s maid doesn’t like Eruna, but if Seisa really didn’t want Eruna there, she wouldn’t be there, so I don’t buy for an instant that Eruna doesn’t interest her…nor are we supposed to buy it.

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The “After-School Six” are a colorful bunch that Eruna fits right in with, even if her nickname and persona isn’t an animal (though gorilla is tossed out there). As I said it’s not surprising she’d find and make friends fast at this school; she just has a naturally magnetic personality, even if she can be a tad aggressive with the girls, with three guys in the club there’s a nice balance.

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That personality is something that just comes naturally to Eruna, but it isn’t the same for the seemingly chipper Yuuto, who has to work hard to smile, and feels he must maintain an outer shell of amicability, lest everyone abandon him, as his mother and little brother did. That trauma is brought to the surface because Asuhi reminds him so much of that brother.

This show found a nice dynamic in its character pairings last week with Kyouma cheering up Eruna after her loss to Seisa. This time it’s Seisa, who no doubt shares some of Yuuto’s social awkwardness, who suggests, based on her own experience, to simply forget the things that make him suffer ever happened.

I was even reminded of the iconic Don Draper line: “It will shock you how much it never happened.”

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Without quite knowing what to do, Eruna still waits for an opportunity to be alone with Yuuto. Maybe her plan was really to let him say his piece, since Eruna knew something was amiss, and he knew she knew. He does start, asking why she didn’t simply leave him when she figured out he was “acting”, and Eruna’s response is wonderful: just because she realized that doesn’t mean they’re not friends.

Eruna is fine being friends with whatever Yuuto Yuuto is comfortable presenting to the world, because there’s more to being friends than exchanging smiles and laughs, but helping and supporting each other. When Eruna was down, Yuuto took her into the drama club. Now she’s making clear she’ll stand with him whatever his problems.

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Eruna’s first matchup with Katai Meika in the bracket is also inspired, because it gets back to Eruna’s equal-opportunity policy when it comes to friends. Katai is inspired by Eruna, but also wants to exact revenge for her senpai Himi. And perhaps because this time she’s battling someone more on her level (and both are having a ton of fun dueling), Eruna is able to activate her Toy Gun when she needs it the most. Katai is graceful and gracious in defeat, and will be rooting for Eruna to win it all. So will I!

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 03

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On Cloud Nine after her upset victory over Himi, Eruna is already prepared to take over the school and the world with the power she just awakened. She also believes she’s already won the heart of Mikagura Seisa, whom she fantasizes about embracing her like a lover in her trademark delusions.

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Last week we saw a glimpse of Eruna’s potential, but she’s clearly jumping the gun, so this week she gets a sobering, but not devastating, dose of reality. Seisa invites Eruna and Himi to her mansion and her room and even indulges Eruna by praising her and patting her on the head, a gesture Himi mimics, to Eruna’s elation.

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Seisa is right: Eruna really only won because Himi let her guard down and didn’t go in for the kill before her opponent’s power could awaken. If they faced off again, Himi would almost certainly win. Eruna isn’t so sure, and in her hubris, agrees to a practice battle against Seisa herself, but she’ll be kicked out of the “Going-Home Club” (is that really even a club?) if she loses.

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Prior to her battle, Eruna soaks in another practice battle, between Imizu Asuhi (telescope boy) and Akama Yuuto (drama club rep) Unlike Himi with Eruna, the experienced Akama doesn’t waste any time dispatching the rookie with ease. It’s an effective warning to Eruna not to take a peactice battle against a veteran lightly.

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Well, it would be effective, if Eruna weren’t so gosh-darn cocky and sure she’ll be able to take out one of Seisa’s crystals. Just as it covered her first fancy breakfast at the school, the very on-top-of-things newspaper club prints a very timely extra about the Eruna/Seisa clash, complete with bikini shots of Eruna that get her cousin very excited.

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In the battle that followed, Mikagura showed that Eruna isn’t going to pull off a win and get her way every week just because she’s awakened her power. She manages to fly all over the field of battle like lightning, but when she lands a blow on a crystal her hand goes right through it, and her beam fails to manifest. Eruna doesn’t even see Seisa snatch her crystals out of the air and smash them with her bare hands. It’s a total, utter defeat, and Seisa isn’t particularly nice about it, either: “Nice try. Too bad.”

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Thus chastened, kicked out of Seisa’s club, and served generous portions of humble pie, Eruna retreats to a quiet corner of the school to lick her wounds and munch on that pie. She’s joined by Kuzuryu, who offers her milk and a light kick in the bum, but to his surprise, Eruna can’t drink milk and haughtily requests something else form him, preferably in the 300-yen range. It’s a nice senpai/kohai moment that cheers Eruna up and gets her thinking about her next steps.

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With no existing clubs up her alley, Eruna decides to form her own, the nature of which is TBD (Seisa Fan Club doesn’t count, I imagine). But in an act of defiant perseverance, she marches up to the walls of Seisa’s giant mansion, builds a “clubroom” out of cardboard, and prepares to spend the night in it, promising Seisa (who happens to be listening from her window) she’ll keep growing and improving (a rookie battle she might be able to win is coming up), so she can one day face off against her once again.

Seemingly moved by Eruna’s determination and pluck, she meets her out in the rain and lets her move into her mansion, if only the hallway where she’ll be allowed to set up her sleeping bag. Eruna wanted to take big huge leaps to greatness, but smaller steps and more incremental goals are going to be the way to go. It’ll be tough, but no one’s ever going to accuse Eruna of not being tough!

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 02

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I’m really digging Mikagura’s reverse-gender shonen story and its boisterous, manic energy. But as rowdy and enthusiastic as Eruna is, she remains homeless and hungry, and joining the Going Home Club only netted her an extra minute in the shower and a tiny portion of natto. She has to start winning battles…but how?

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Eruna decides to visit all the high-ranking clubs seeking advice. Kuzuryuu ignores her, Himi will only help if Eruna buys her dessert (which she can’t afford), Seisa doesn’t even let her in the house, and while Imizu Asuhi is so cute and feminine Eruna could swear he’s a she, she ends up accidentally setting off his telescope gun. The recurring theme of these encounters is clear: this is something she needs to figure out for herself, as they did. If she can’t, she doesn’t deserve to be there.

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With no direction whatsoever, Eruna takes a game Shigure up on his offer to assist her, and while she comes up with cool names for the moves she tries on him, at the end of the day, she’s only hitting him with her bookbag and sleeping bag, then getting pulled back into her dating sim and her beloved 2D GF Yuriko (the timing of this joke is great). The rest is merely her delusions…and she knows that…but she’s not sure what else to do.

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When she crosses paths with Seisa, she delivers a confession of sorts; that the whole reason she came to the school was because she wanted to hang out with a lovely person like the girl in the brochure, and she’s committed to trying her very best to make her proud of her.

The exchange reminds me of what a male character of similar background and personality might say to the girl he likes (if he had he the guts to do so), only Eruna happens to also be a girl (and does have the guts). She’s just a super-likable character I can’t help but wanna root for. I know, that’s the point, but she show hit the mark well.

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But as her battle neared, and Eruna showed no signs of being remotely prepared, I’ll admit I started to feel a little apprehensive. Eruna can imagine whatever positive outcome she likes and delude herself that’s it’s going to happen, but she gets a cold dose of reality when what she considers a pretty clever ambush attempt is foiled easily by the experienced Himi. Himi is also pretty cocky, remarking how she wants to wrap this dawdle up soon so she can go eat some snacks.

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Just when the weight of what defeat would mean begins to slowly descend upon a limping, winded Eruna, she comes across a door covered in seals that release when she touches it. Inside is a room full of light where a slightly more throwback version of herself tells her to awaken her power; the power she had inside all along, but just didn’t know how to tap into. After this encounter, a switch goes off, and suddenly Eruna is dodging Himi’s attack with ease and flying through the school like a bat out of hell.

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As Eruna’s strength, speed, and agility rise exponentially, she’s overcome by a combination of disbelief and excitement, and the animation of the episodes gets bolder and jauntier to keep up with her. With a great beam of light emanating from her index finger, she shatters all three of Himi’s crystals simultaneously, earning her a decisive upset win.

Perhaps her delusions of greatness were really an expression her hidden power trying to emerge. Now they have, and that greatness is no longer just a delusion.

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It’s a win the whole school watched from their smartphones, including Seisa, who certainly looks impressed with what she saw, and all of a sudden Eruna is no longer the over-fantasizing, hapless rookie underdog…but an imposing upstart who’s only just cracked the surface of the potential her bloodline has passed down to her.

Perhaps most important, people will start to stop looking down on her; not just because she can soar high into the sky now, but because she made the same breakthrough all of them made before her. Now she really is one of them.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 01 (First Impressions)

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My watchlist has suddenly become stuffed with halfway-decent coms, be they rom or not. The latest to grace my LCD is MGK, which delivered a dense, crisp, madcap romp around the suddenly far-more-interesting life of the orange-haired spark plug that is Ichinomiya Eruna, who dominates the episode. This is not a bad thing.

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Just as there are many moods and sides and expressions to the show in which she stars, Eruna is a satisfyingly-realized, complex goofball of a girl who gets lost in her dating sims (in which she dates girls, whom she seems to prefer), and we get lost in them right along with her. She occupies a very interesting character zone: like girly than Sakura Chiyo; less hulking than Onizuka Hime; less…male than Katsuragi Keima (Did I mention I love all those guys?), and yet far more than the sum of her parts.

She’s sorta like a chuuni with her delusions, which are a means of relief from the mundane world in which she live. She’s the dashing heroine in her daydreams, but looks and acts like the dashing heroine in real life too—complete with her cape-like scarf—only that life isn’t taking her seriously. She longs for a place that does…a place where she can spread her wings and have some fun.

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Eruna’s cousin Shigure (who seems to have a one-sided thing for her) manages to pique her interest in Mikagura High where he attends, but because of the fact their uniforms kick ass. And you know what? They DO. Not only that, Eruna decides if Mikagura is the kind of place she can meet gorgeous angels like Mikagura Seisa, the principal’s granddaughter…well, where does she sign up?

Having established that Eruna is not really just shallow, but yearning for a more interesting existence, Mikagura feels like a good fit right off the bat. For one thing, everyone customizes those awesome uniforms just like she does with her yellow scarf. For another, the clubs battle each other with their club skills in exchange for more favorable living conditions, pride, and other perks.

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Mikagura is full of colorful characters who flaunt the dress code. Eruna is beside herself with glee at the sight of all the cuties, who she meets in a kind of gauntlet of cute. To her credit, she manages to express her excitement in different ways each time. She’s truly a girl of a thousand expressions.

When she learns the rough side of the coin—that she’s starting at the bottom of the pile with nothing, she doesn’t despair. So what if right now all she has is a sleeping bag in the drafty hall, side dishes for dinner and navy showers? She has a feeling she’s going to have fun here…and she won’t be on the bottom forever.

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To her delight, she also gets to meet the cover girl herself, Mikagura Seisa, the water to Eruna’s fire if ever there was one. Eruna watches in awe as Seisa calmly douses a minor dispute between Mr. Artiste and some green-haired (literally), green-horned (figuratively) whelp.

When Seisa approaches Eruna, whose enrollment was recommended by the floating cat Bimii (well, that’s what Eruna calls him), things get even better, as Seisa personally invites her to join the illustrious and exclusive “going home” club, on the condition that she sub for her in the next club battle. Eruna is, not surprisingly, SO DAMN OKAY WITH THIS.

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That brings us back to the show’s cold open. The tense atmosphere, dark aesthetic, and scenario of one student fleeing another who corners and appears to waste her with a camera flash initially had me thinking this might be more of a Braverade number, a la Akuma no Riddle. Only when Eruna met her in the end did I learn the girl chased and flashed was Seisa.

Was this a flashback or forward? Was this a taste of some heavier things going down in the future, or just a tease? Considering the bright, playful tone of the episode that followed, I’m inclined to think the latter, but that’s okay. I’m fully on Eruna’s side, and whatever club activity she ends up choosing, watching her stumble, fall, get back up, dust herself off, and kick some ass should be fun.

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