Puella Magi Madoka Magica 12

And so, the best series of the Winter 2011 season ends – in late April – not with a whimper, but with – what else – the re-making of the entire universe. Madoka can make any wish, so she decides to wish for there never being any witches. This pisses off Incubator, but it happens. Of course, there’s a price to be paid. That price is, no more Madoka. Aside from episode 10, this is the only time the heroine is a maho shojo, and she’s nothing like any other; as her newly-gained godlike powers allow her to free the souls of maho shojo from soul gems all over the world, so they’ll never become witches. No maho shojo, no witches.

Of course, even though Madoka makes sure to be as explicit and detailed with her wish as possible, the universe proves just as devious as Incubator. The new universe she creates still has Maho Shojo, but they fight “magical beasts” rather than witches. Ah well, close enough! Kyubey is still around, but it seems he’s more of a friend than a trickster. Also, in the realm/void between the end of the old universe and the birth of the new one, Madoka and Homura say their goodbyes, and Madoka gives her her hair ribbon. The result of this is, Homura is the only person who remembers Madoka. Even for her brother, Madoka is just an imaginary friend. While Madoka is now free of her fate, Homura can’t be all that happy her best friend had to sacrifice her entire existence in order to eliminate witches.

While this series has never been shy about highly abstract settings, especially when dealing with witches, the whole end-of-the-universe transition was a little sudden and overwrought, with whispers of End of Evangelion. The naked space Madoka and Homura bordered on silly-looking, and their tearful goodbye, while earned, bordered on sappy at times. Despite these issues, the series ended strong, and now complete, I can count it among my favorite anime series due to its highly original and entertaining twist on the maho shojo genre. It’s also perhaps Akiyuki Shinbo’s finest non-comedy series. Don’t be put off by the girly opening and frilly costumes; this series has true grit. Rating: 3.5

Series Mean Ranking: 3.750

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica 11

I feared the month-long hiatus would have killed most of the momentum gained after the milestone tenth episode that chronicles Akemi Homura’s odyssey through time and space to protect Madoka. Those fears were mostly allayed by yet another episode that may not have been as action pack as last month’s, but was certainly full of crucial information and more startling revelations. Kyubey figures out Homura’s power, but is never worried about it, and in fact is congratulatory towards Homura. This is because he believes by pressing the reset button so many times, Homura has allowed Madoka to become a more and more powerful magical girl, and thus her karmic burden grows more and more immense.

This is one last ef-u for Homura, who has apparently been working so hard to avoid exactly what her actions have caused: a ridiculously-powerful Madoka. Worse still, even in this timeline, there is no way Homura can prevent Madoka from contracting. Everyone else is dead; Madoka is responsible, and even though she knows Kyubey is up to no good, she is compelled to lend Homura a helping hand, even if it means abandoning her family. Madoka’s mind is made up once Homura finally opens up to her about what’s going on and why.

Homura initially tries to fight Walpurgisnacht herself, but not surprisingly fails, despite some impressive pyrotechnics (which seemingly destroy a fair amount of the city). Bloodied and beaten, Homura lies amongst debris, and for once, hesitates to turn back time; doing so would only hurt Madoka more, in her mind. With Homura down and out and no more magical girls extant, Madoka has to step in, stand tall, and make a bad deal with a cold, logical alien; taking her mother’s advice to stop being so good and do something bad for once. Rating: 4

Level E 13

Level E goes out on a lofty note, which is not surprising considering the high level of quality it has sustained. A somewhat inocuous cliffhanger last week instantly comes into play: and more signs that the princess is not who she says she is surface. What follows is an intoxicatingly entertaining and confident story of intergalactic political intrigue and cerebral (and physical) cat-and-mouse.

As per usual, this story never lets you see all the cards it’s holding until the very end, but you’re having so much fun, you don’t have time to scratch your head. Things are always kept nice and breezy, even with the fate of earth on the line, but the lack of serious drama is never a problem. When Prince’s brother – who turns out not to be his brother, but then again, actually is – attacks him with a sword, we see perhaps for the first time what a truly slippery bastard he is.

But that double-twist – that his brother and bride are impersonating imposters to attempt to trick him – is perfectly executed. His brother may not be a match for him, but the princess is at least a match for him in the brains department – and perhaps even someone worth falling in love with. Thus in this final arc, Prince’s whole purpose for being on earth – to find some exploit worth his time and effort – would seem to pay off. And the final twist with the cat…nice touch! Rating: 4

Series Mean Ranking: 3.500

Fractale 11

Well, Fractale couldn’t really have ended any more amicably for our core trio of Clain, Phryne, and Nessa. The Temple is destroyed, along with most of the war-making might of Lost Millenium, but Fractale is still rebooted. And, oh yeah, Clain finally mans up and confesses his rather obvious love for Phryne, which she is only too happy to requite.

Clain also made the mature choice to let Phryne and Nessa go through with the reboot (following them up a very long elevator into an orbital garden). Nessa can’t live forever on her own, and the reboot ends up merging them into a melange; Nessa’s personality in Phryne’s body. This even surprises Clain, but it sure beats the reverse; and being in love with two girls at once wasn’t going to work ;)

So yeah, Fractale was a very nice-looking, if not incredibly-deep series. The bad guys were pretty pathetic (the “father” guy just let Phryne stab him, while the Grand Priestess just let Dias blow her up…wtf?) and the only truly perilous situation was when Clain was shot, but he pulls through almost instantly. And yeah, Nessa’s constant “I love love” declarations wore rather thin. But it still had some nice ideas about overdependence on technology, and how it may even one day merge with religion. Which, if you ask me, is scary. Rating: 3.5

Series Mean Ranking: 3.364

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 12

Well, after about 39 episodes of hand-wrining neurosis, I really couldn’t have asked for a better finale to Kimi ni Todoke. The two lovebirds finally know about their feelings for one another, and couldn’t be happier that they both feel the same way. They’re far more comfortable around one another, and no longer care what other people think (or at least, can live with what other people think).

Sawako and Kazehaya aren’t the only ones who’ve made progress. Kurumi and Kento are left to lick each other’s wounds – even if from the looks of it Kurumi isn’t all that interested. Chizuru has some really thoughtful things to say (I love it when this show treats her like a human rather than a clown), and Ryu’s confession to her – and her reaction to it – are just about pitch-perfect. Good luck, you crazy cats! Also, if Yano ever had a thing for Pin, it doesn’t amount to anything, but that’s okay, as Yano seems to like her independence.

Oh yeah, can’t forget: Sawako finally gives Kazehaya his gifts! Continuity, FTW! And while I thought it was silly that she didn’t give him these gifts at the proper times, but better late than never, and heck, from Kazehaya’s perspective, his girlfriend is already showering him with gifts. Nothin’ wrong with that. Nothin’ wrong with this ending, either. It wasn’t cheap, and it tied most everything up in a neat little bow. One last thing: Pin getting annoyed by the couple’s “sparkly aura” and shooing it away? Frikkin’ hilarious. Rating: 4

Series Mean Ranking: 3.346

Level E 12

Wherein Prince’s royal duties finally catch up to him. His extremely conservative, polite, courteous younger brother arrives on earth. He’s a prince to, but he won’t allow his brother to shirk his responsibility to marry the princess of another world, a tradition that goes back generations and maintains peace and galactic balance. He wouldn’t even think of taking his brother’s place as Doguran King; he just isn’t wired that way.

Similarly, the princess, despite never having met Prince, is ready to marry him on the spot, having prepared for such a thing all her life. She loves him deeply, despite the distance between them, and it’s pretty clear she wouldn’t be the woman she is were it not for the encouragement Prince unconsciously instilled in her to be the best damn princess she can possibly be.

Yet again Level E proves it can present us will all new characters and they can be iimmediately deep and interesting. I also find it awesome that Craft is 100% on Prince’s side, because there’s nothing he’d like more than for his more sensible younger brother to take the throne. And the massive alien fleet in Earth orbit lends some nice gravity to the festivities.

Tsutsui and Miho are also in top form trying to be on the Princes side while becoming just as endeared with the lil’ bro and betrothed as we are. This is definitely a tough one: the Prince doesn’t want to be hemmed in by marriage; but he doesn’t seem to have a lot of options with all the political stuff at stake (and all those ships in orbit who came to witness the wedding). The finale should be something. And, oh yes…Craft’s yellow Camaro puts this episode over the top, ratings-wise. Rating: 4

Fractale 10

Clain and Nessa tear after Phryne in the dinghy (why did Sunda leave it there for them, anyway?) while Phryne tries to reason with her mom, the Grand Priestess. As the battle between Lost Millenium and the Temple continues, I continue to be unimpressed with it; huge sky battles should be more exhilarated, but I fear this isn’t the animators’ forte. The CGI models just look like rubber duckies floating around with slapped-on particle weapon beams.

The rather dull battle aside, the psychological stakes couldn’t be higher. Phryne’s mother isn’t any more pleasant than her father, as her syrupy platitudes ring hollow when she coaxes Phryne to her lap, only to strangle her half to death. Apparently her mother is also her sister (in a way), because when she was young she was Phryne too, only she wasn’t up-to-snuff enough to serve as the key to the world. She’s bitter, hence the choking.

Basically, Clain kinda fails hard in the Protect-Nessa-and-Phryne department. His first slip-up was not keeping an eye on Phryne, leading her to run off again. Nessa follows him to Temple HQ, so now both parts of the key are in enemy territory. Finally, he’s on the wrong side of a plate glass window when Phryne’s pederast father sniffs her out and grabs her. That’s three strikes in my book; it’ll take a miracle (or deus ex machina) to get the love-lovin’ trio out of this spot… Rating: 3

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Postponement Update

“Due to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the broadcast of episodes 11 and 12 have been postponed, though [a producer] mentioned the delay will allow extra time for the animation studio to improve the drawings for both episodes, with the staff aiming to have the final episode released by the middle of April 2011.”

Fractale 9

The chips all go on the table in this very solid episode of Fractale. The Temple launches a propaganda war against Lost Millenium, forcing all its various branches to band together and launch a last-ditch assault upon the Temple. Sunda drops Clain, Phryne, and Nessa off at Granitz so as not to lead them straight to the lion’s jaws. A fleet of Lost Millenium airships floating in the azure sky was a regal sight.

What I first thought was, oh great, Clain, the somewhat dull lead, is stuck at the village just hanging out while the airships do battle offscreen. Indeed, there’s not much airship battling – at least nothing approaching Last Exile impressiveness – but that turns out to be okay, as this episode is primarily a poignant portrait of the triad of Clain, Phryne and Nessa – and how they’ve come to love one another. I’m surprised how much development has taken place between these three, and their chemistry has benefited greatly from it.

Then Phryne ruins it by running off again – which just seemed a bit like Deja Vu to me. I share in Clain’s rage upon waking up to yet another farewell note – especially since the three of them just promised to be together forever. Phryne has her reasons – mostly pride and responsibility – but she should also realize by now that she can’t go anywhere on her own and not expect Clain to come to her rescue. All the more so now that he knows what an effed-up dad she has! Rating: 3.5

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 11

Wow, a lot cleared up this week: first of all, Sawako and Kazehaya’s classmates are not only incredibly nosy, but incredibly thick as well. Kazehaya has to repeat himself several times in order to make it clear who Sawako is to him: namely his girlfriend. Sawako can scarcely believe it herself. It’s great to hear both Kazehaya and Sawako speak so clearly about these things at last; without all the cryptology and misunderstandings.

This is an episode packed with catharses; Kent confesses that he misled Sawako; while Chizuri admits she also unwittingly discouraged Kazehaya. A drunk (and rather pathetic) Pin steps back and gazes at the relationship he has helped to forge, while reminding Kazehaya never to rely on the benefit of doubt. The best line of the episode was Pin’s: “Does she really look like someone who would just somehow understand things?” Kazehaya is too punch-drunk in love to realize she really isn’t. Rating: 3.5

Level E 11

Level E finally returns to the life of Tsutsui and shows the Kisaragi baseball team in action, and hilarity ensues. The show rebounds after an episode that lacked almost any comedy. The whole team is swallowed up by the concentration of one teammate; they end up in a dream world consisting of a baseball stadium.

Naturally, Prince tagged along to see if anything could be done to destroy team cohesion through caustic mutual suspicion, but he fails to entertain himself in any meaningful way, as Tsutsui has a shorter fuse then ever, and is more than happy to toss the blonde Doguran around before he can finish his insidious sentences. The team is a bit stumped about what to do, until a rival team appears, then it’s game on. The goal is no longer to escape, but to play some friggin’ ball.

As most of the episode unfolded in this dream world, there was a really eerie and surreal light and droning sound to the place; it was sold really well as a kind of mind prison for the team. The overzealous captain was good for a laugh or two, and Craft crashing a perfectly good third-gen Honda Stepwgn when he hears that the Prince is involved is also pretty alright. Rating: 3.5

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 10

This seemed more like an episode for Kazehaya and Sawako than for us, the audience. We are already very much up to speed about where both parties stand in the feelings department, yet the show decided they needed to embellish this by having the two lovebirds confirm it several times in various exchanges during seemingly the umpteenth school festival (seriously, where do they get the money to hold so many?)

It wasn’t totally redundant, however: for the first time…bascially ever, Sadako actually says what’s on her mind; something heartfelt, not cobbled together and laced with stammering. She almost sounds confident, bless ‘er! This is huge, because so much of what she says that has any significance is heard by no one but us; this is a notable change of form.

Also, Kazehaya finally has the pelotas to call out to Sawako (after strategically letting her walk away to the ideal distance), telling her he likes her in public; in front of dozens of classmates. Granted, many of these classmates are so thick and grotesquely stupid, they probably still don’t understand, but there you are. He also, thank god, tells Joe to fuck off (firmly, yet politely, mind you) so he can keep talking to his girl. Attaboy…Progress~ you makes it. Rating: 3

Level E 10

This was one of those episodes I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: was this mermaid-type maiden actually the Prince in drag again? Would some unexpected comedic twist break through all the syrupy sentiment and seriousness? Well, in a word, no.

Prince wasn’t present at all. And even though this episode was played mostly straight, with hardly any laugh-out-loud moments (although Yokota always looks funny, what with his mustache, gut and grey hair), but you know what? I still enjoyed it. Level E tells such good, interesting stories with such regularity, they more than earned the right to do a more serious and dramatic one.

I didn’t even mind the return of the Color Rangers, even though I didn’t expect to see any more of them. The fact that they carry on their duties as rangers shows that Prince’s schemes don’t always end in bitter suffering for others; something good comes out of them, on occasion. The kids’ alien teacher even makes a cameo, helping out in he nick of time, then slinking away just as briskly. Considering she’s a talented assassin, and overly flashy would miss the point, her limited role was logical. Rating: 3