Re: Zero – Frozen Bonds

There’s one more piece of business before we begin the months-long wait for Re:Zero Season 2: a second OVA that takes place before Subaru is transported into this new world from that convenience store parking lot. It’s a prequel that focuses on Emilia, prior to becoming a candidate. She lives alone in a treehouse in the forest, surrounded by ice sculptures of people she carefully tends every day. This begs the question: did she turn them to ice? Is this penance?

If it is, she doesn’t know it. We actually get a good amount of Emilia simply wordlessly going through her daily routine, and it’s clear she’s as good a good girl as she is in Re:Zero. But then there’s the issue of her appearance, and her resemblance to the Witch of Envy. Everyone dispises that witch, and Emilia has exhibited magical powers, so everyone in the nearby village is afraid of her and hates her. Everyone except Puck, of course.

When a band of thugs attacks her with the intent of capturing her and selling her into sexual slavery, Puck isn’t around, so she has to rely on her own powers, as well as the cooperation of lesser spirits Puck taught her how to summon. She begs the thugs again and again not to escalate, but they ignore her. A giant yeti joins the fray, and her powers go out of control. Puck intervenes, calming Emilia down, but only because he’s respecting her wishes not to kill anyone.

There’s an “arbiter” spirit named Melakeura who is intent on eliminating Emilia simply for resembling (and being descended from) the witch. He’s stubborn as a horse (and looks like one too!), and Puck can’t dissuade him. Not wanting Puck to take on everything himself, Emilia leaves the safety of her treehouse and sets off on her awesome ice snowboard. Melakeura confronts, condemns, and attacks Emilia, but Puck arrives in time to slow him down.

A multi-stage back-and-forth battle between the two occurs, with Emilia demanding the arbiter to judge her for who she is, not some different person, and Puck insisting she be allowed to live a happy life in peace. Melakeura isn’t having it, so after Puck is nearly KO’d, he forms an official contract with “Lia” and takes his notorious monster form for the first time to defend her.

Melakeura also grows to monstrous size, making this almost a kaiju battle ending. But when the dust settles, Lia and Mega-Puck are none the worse for wear, and commit to their bond as father and daughter before a gorgeous sunset. Frozen Bonds felt 20-30 minutes longer than it really needed to be (some of the battles and Melakerua’s halting dialogue got repetitive at times) but it was nevertheless fun to see a glimpse of Emilia That Was, and how she came to be the exceptional person she is in the present.

Re: Zero – Memory Snow

Firstly, this OVA/Movie isn’t new: it was released back in October 2018…but it’s new for me! And frankly, after one and a half seasons of watching the cast of Re:Zero in chibi form sharing the screen with the casts of 3-4 other isekai shows, it’s a rare pleasure to finally see Subaru, Rem, Ram, Emilia, Roswaal, and Beako in their normal proportions, in a more slice-of-life setting.

While these initial screenshots are disconcerting, one can be rest assured that neither Subie nor anyone else goes through anything horrible or traumatic in this Memory Snow side story; the worst thing that happens is he wakes up to an increasingly cold manor. Turns out the cold is emanating from Puck, who is undergoing Hatsumaki, a periodic semi-controlled bleeding-off of mana. It’s fun to learn that Ram shares Subie’s extreme dislike of the cold.

Subaru’s first date with Lia is postponed until the Hatsumaki is over, but he makes the best of a chilly situation by taking a page from his homeland and organizing a snow festival on the manor grounds. Everyone makes a snow sculpture while Subie, the village elder and Roswaal serve as judges. Even Beako gets in on the action, while Ram and Rem’s collaboration of a Subaru-Roswaal hybrid statue gets middling scores for being so creepy.

At the post-festival banquet, Roswaal cracks open a stash of booze hidden under the floorboards of Subaru’s bedroom. This results in what I believe is our first taste of both Tipsy Emilia and Tipsy Rem, who while unassailably adorable in their playful drunkenness, have limited energy stores and it’s not long before both are using Subie’s lap as a pillow. Ram, on the other hand, can mostly hold her liquor.

The group migrates outside, where Puck expands the Hatsumaki to give the villagers and surrounding lands a lovely late night snowfall; the spirits soon appear, thousand points of light dancing around the sky. Beako and Rem deliver their barbs to Subaru regarding his being named after a star of all things, but by night’s end everyone can jump in bed content after a very full, fun day spearheaded by Barusu.

With Puck’s Hatsumaki waning, the story closes with Subaru and Emilia finally having their date—and Lia unveiling her adorable outfit for the occasion. While this outing lacked its parent anime’s sadistic bite or any measurable stakes, it was a strong affirmation of the real reason why I kept watching Re:Zero, and will be tuning in to its second season: the characters. Subaru, Rem, Emilia & Co. are eminently fun to watch, whether they’re chibis in a high school or playing in the snow without a care in the world.

BokuBen OVA 01 – Unusual Situations

This is one of two extra episodes included with the BokuBen limited edition volume 14 and volume 16. As such, it is not must-watch TV in terms of plot. Instead, thanks to the beach setting, it’s an opportunity for all of the fanservice. Nariyuki and Asumi have been taking various lovey-dovey selfies for the benefit of her father, but when he presses them to go to the beach lest he start to develop doubts they’re really dating, well…what else can they do?

The thing is, Nariyuki can’t swim, so when a wave knocks them off their dinghy, he has to grab Asumi, and in the confusion her bikini top washes away. She wears his wet shirt until they find it washed up on rocks, along with a second, bigger bikini top, but it’s stolen by a dolphin.

Obviously, that top belongs to Kirisu-sensei, who is at that same beach with her fellow teachers at a BBQ. She had retreated from the unpleasant social situation and, well, lost her bikini top. Nariyuki knows her top is gone for good, so stays with her until the changing area clears out. When she trips on a sea cucumber and freaks out, she leaps at him, and he smashes his glasses.

Now Nariyuki truly finds himself in the “unusual situation” his sister could detect with her brocon-spidey-sense—virtually blind and having to be led through the rocks by his topless teacher. They find a shop where the only remaining swimsuit choices are an micro bikini and a school swimsuit. Nariyuki goes for the coverage.

When the other teachers (who are dogs, BTW) spot Nariyuki and ask about Kirisu, he lies and says he hasn’t seen her. Kirisu explains her reluctance to large social events to her past as a solo competitor, viewing everyone as her enemy. Having both covered her (both literally and figuratively), Nariyuki briefly loses himself and comes out and says she’d be in big trouble were it not for him on numerous occasions.

He was trying to make a point on the benefits, and often necessity of occasionally relying on others, as she most certainly has with him, but it came out wrong. To his surprise, he doesn’t get socked for his comments; Kirisu agrees. In a way, he’s kind of a tutor for her, only on matters like this (it’s unlikely she’ll ever learn to clean properly).

Finally, the episode closes on Fumino, Uruka, Rizu and Sawako wearing swimsuits while they study, since they’re not able to go to the beach. Uh huh. Surrre, why not?!

Asagao to Kase-san. (OVA) – The Sun is Always Shining Above the Clouds

Asagaro to Kase-san, an OVA released in the Summer of 2018, is a concise but solid piece of serious yuri storytelling in the vein of Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto, and Sakura TrickIt strikes that delicate balance of covering a fair amount of material while never feeling like it’s trying to do too much. The stakes never stray from the future of a couple of young lovers who start dating in their final year of high school.

That they’re both girls, living in relatively conservative Japan, never comes up, because this isn’t about whether they can be together or not. It’s about their mutual love, plain and simple, and how they weather other challenges to remain together, a state neither of them at any point wish to leave.

Mild-mannered gardening fanatic Yamada Yui had never dated anyone before she and the athletic track star Kase Tomoka got together, but they’re together before the opening credits, which is a heck of a timesaver! Suffice it to say they liked each other to the extent they were equally enthusiastic about becoming a couple.

That mutual enthusiasm paid dividends, as before long the like turned to love. There’s never any doubt that Kase is as smitten with Yamada as vice-versa, even if the latter tends to feel inferior due to Kase’s social and literal stature at school. There are also times when she allows Kase to swept up by others, often interrupting potential time alone.

But while Yamada comes to realize she’ll have to be more assertive at times, the fact that Kase is so popular isn’t a problem for her; it serves to validate why she loves her so much in the first place: Kase’s a surpassingly kind and gregarious young woman.

In any case, in moments when Yamada might feel lonely due to indulging Kase’s natural gregariousness, Kase’s own desire to be alone with Yamada means it’s never that long before she seeks Yamada out, both grateful for her patience and relieved to have in her a kind of haven.

Time with Yamada is special to Kase; more special than time with anyone else. That’s whether they’re on an intimate nighttime phone call, alone together in Yamada’s room raising the temperature a bit, or on a beach in Okinawa making up and out after Yamada gets a bit too “surprised” seeing Kase nude.

The biggest threat to their relationship isn’t the fact that they’re both girls, which is refreshing. Instead, like any other relationship, it’s the unrelenting march of time and the changes it brings. Kase is on the fast track to Tokyo U on an athletic scholarship; Yamada’s inertia seems to be keeping her tethered to her hometown, commuting to the local college from home.

Especially when Kase calls to offer to turn down the scholarship and she essentially tells her not to, Yamada is on the cusp of relegating their relationship to a long-distance affair, with visits very few and far between. It’s only on the very day Kase leaves for Tokyo that Yamada wakes up and realizes she doesn’t want that at all. She wants as much Kase as she can get, and so she runs and keeps running until she’s in Kase’s arms aboard the Shinkansen.

How will Yamada manage to get into a Tokyo school? Ehh, she’ll figure it out! The most important thing is that they’re together, like they want to be. They’re also on the same wavelength; Kase really didn’t want to leave Yamada, but felt trapped by the circumstance of her athletic excellence. Fortunately for her, Yamada wasn’t going to let something like that cause what they had to fall apart.

Backed by gorgeous animation and superb voice work from Sakura Ayane and Takahashi Minami, Asagao to Kase-san delivers an elegant and captivating romance between two girls for whom simply no one else would do, and whose bond managed to withstand the winds of change. Give it a watch and your heart will grow at least three sizes!

Steins;Gate 0 – 24 (OVA) – The Very Definition of “Unnecessary”

If this was the first episode of Steins;Gate you ever watched, let’s just say it’s highly unlikely you’d never, ever watch another.

But perhaps that’s unfair: this is an extra episode; it’s only meant to be a fun character supplement between two more vital episodes that aired. It isn’t meant to contribute much insight into anyone or anything, and in this it succeeds.

The plot, such as it is, is this: All the girls (plus Ruka) make chocolates, while Suzu worries about who Kagari’s valentine is. This leads to some funny scenes in her imagination involving Kagari with Tennouji or Rintarou.

Faris’ exasperation at no one knowing how to make chocolates (aside from Ruka and Yuki, who show up late) is amusing enough, especially when she almost fades into “pure white” from exhaustion.

But otherwise, to paraphrase both Kurisu and Amakurisu, it’s better to not watch and regret then to regret having watched. You’re better off watching the first show’s OVA instead.

Working!!! – Special – Lord of the Takanashi

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A few months back I voiced my frustration over Working!!!’s apparent reluctance to deliver a proper resolution to the Inami x Takanashi romance, instead ending on a “To Be Continued.” Well, this hour-long special is that promised continuation…and baby, it delivers. All is forgiven.

I still think this could have gotten done in the last couple of episodes of the threequel, but in hindsight, I didn’t mind the material we got instead, as well as this special that gives the resolution plenty of time and space to unfold.

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Because while there are lots of other good things going on in this special—Yamada coming to grips with being reunited with her mom; Popura trying to be the best future chief she can be; Nazuna preparing to take over the world one day—most of the time the focus is where it should be: on our main couple.

Takanashi continues to cross-dress on order from his mother, who would deny him both romance and manhood as long as he’s dishonest about his feelings.

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Yachiyo is concerned about Takanashi (mostly because he’s a good worker and she needs the labor) so when Inami beseeches her for a time when she can run into Takanashi (who had his schedule adjusted to avoid her), the boss is happy to comply.

Inami lies in wait and confronts Takanashi, who is very reasonable with her, and seems to be on the cusp of saying what he should have said a long time ago, but yet again a parent butts in and delays the catharsis; his mother, again, not allowing a son who lies to date anyone.

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The only way this stalemate will be broken is if Inami sallies forth to rescue Takanashi as his knight in…his own work uniform. I love the idea and the symmetry of Inami dressing as a boy to save the one she loves dressed as a girl (especially the little dig Yamada gets in about her wrapping her chest).

But the outfit won’t be enough: Inami must face a gauntlet of Takanashi’s sisters, deployed by her mother to test her. The first challenger is Kazue, but Inami gets past her accidentally by congratulating her on her re-marriage. Okay…maybe this won’t be so hard after all…but that doesn’t mean it isn’t funny!

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Izumi is next, but she’s actually glad Souta ended up with Inami, so forfeits their fight, accepting a forehead flick as defeat even though said flick never reaches her forehead. Just when it looks as if Kozue has Inami’s number (revealing Inami can only fight against men), when her buds show up looking for her, she totally flakes out.

But like Izumi, she’s on Inami’s side. So is Inami’s final challenger Nazuna, who instead tests how nice a person she is by refusing to fight her even though Nazuna seems to be rearing for one.

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Nazuna later becomes a powerful advocate for Inami at their home, where her mother remains unconvinced Souta should be freed. When we see the photo Nazuna produces of her mother as a 17-year-old arguably even tinier and cuter than even Popura, it’s concrete proof of how much people can change, if you just give them the opportunity to do so.

The clincher for Souta’s mom is when Popura shows up, and she realizes her son has changed: he went for the ordinary-sized girl over the tiny one.

Also extremely amusing is the fact Takanashi’s mom keeps that picture of her around her office because despite loathing how tiny she once was, she shares the same love of tiny cute things as her son, which is why she takes an instant liking to Popura, using her as a prayer offering, then attempting to kidnap her as she returns to work, satisfied Souta is on the right track.

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Takanashi brings up his intense affection for all things cute and small, which Inami initially and wrongly mistakes for a soft rejection. Takanashi goes on to say he doesn’t just want to be someone who can proclaim loudly and proudly that he loves tiny cute things; but that he can proclaim that he loves all the things he loves – like Inami.

He finally, finalllllly confesses, she says she feels the same way, he says he’s known that for some time, and she lets him take her hand the way lovers do, without creepy CGI grabbing wands. THANK GOD.

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After that wonderful exchange, and all the fun and hilarious stuff that led up to it, I stand fully propitiated. Working!!! took a while to get to where it ended up (three cours and a special, to be exact), but it got there. It didn’t let me down.

Hell, it almost makes me want to go all the way back to the beginning, this time without the stress of not knowing when or even if things will work out…because they did. So I guess there’s nothing left to say but Thank you, Working!!!, for all the laughter-food!

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Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt – 01

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Sunrise had a Christmas present of a kind ready for me today: another Gundam series that looks and feels like it could take place in the same universe and timeline as IBO, even exist in the same debris field that show’s cast is currently engaged in. In fact, IBO takes place in “P.D.” (Post Disaster) 323, while Thunderbolt takes place in U.C. 0079, the same year as the original Gundam, making it a direct spin-off.

Unlike Recon in G, but like the new Star Wars movie, it’s easy to settle into this world, which comes down to the juicy details. A melange of the ordinary (smoking, romances, jazz drumming on consoles, waiting on standby) and the extraordinary (the tremendous speed of battle, how quickly tides can turn, the blood-and-guts brutality of the battles) create a rich world in a scant fifteen minutes and change.

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The show also makes clear there’s no good or bad guy here, only two different warring sides who each have their reasons to fight. The Federation ace Io Fleming loves the freedom of space combat. Zeon’s Daryl Lorenz, who like many of his comrades has prosthetic legs, seems more serious, duty- and honor-bound. Many of their comrades die beside them in this episode, causing a great deal of grief for everyone who knew them but they keep on ticking.

Above all Thunderbolt portrays this futuristic life as a hard one, no matter which side you’re on, and no matter what you’re fighting for. It’s scuffed and gritty and bleak, so one living in such a world would tend to retreat into the embrace of the opposite sex, or porn, or carve out a little hollow of peace, be it girls or plants or music. Notably, Io prefers free jazz, while Daryl’s tastes hew more towards more structured pop music.

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After his own suit is destroyed, Io manages to EVA over to the Zeon snipers, take one out, and steal his suit to return to his ship. His captain (with whom he seems to be on close terms with) assigns him to a new prototype, Gundam, because everyone who outranked him is dead.

Whether it’s mobile suits, trained pilots, or simply flesh-and-blood limbs, everything is in short supply here in Thunderbolt, on the bleeding edge. And while Io embraces the increased  power of his iconic new suit, Daryl plans revenge against him for the death of his comrade.

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P.S. If the music reminded you of Cowboy Bebop, that’s because it was composed by Kikuchi Naruyoshi, saxophonist for The Seatbelts.

Steins Gate – 25 (OVA)

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As anyone who’s read my nearly five-year-late reviews of Steins;Gate, you’ll know it’s my favorite show, and I really enjoyed the ending, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to see more. A fun and serious peril-free epilogue was indicated, and sure enough, its what we got with this extra episode, which takes place two months after Okabe changes the power structure of the world and runs into a grateful and very knowing Kurisu in Akiba.

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It also takes place in America; L.A. specifically, though on this the episode falters a bit with Okabe getting into some somewhat forced trouble with the TSA and later with some random cops. Granted, he’s acting pretty weird for someone not in his home country. And I must convey serious props to Kurisu’s choice of American wheels: a ’59 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. Like those stitches she applied to Okabe’s coat, it’s pink and memorable.

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She drives her fellow Lab Members to her personal hotel suite and they proceed to treat it pretty much exactly like the lab in Akiba, even taking the same positions and engaging in the same activities. Routine daily habits are hard to break, even abroad!

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Kurisu deposits them at the best lodging they can afford, and the members let their imaginations run wild. Combined with the fact they can’t quite figure who will sleep in which room, Kurisu decides she’ll stay there with them.

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There, at night when everyone else is asleep we get a better idea of what exactly happened with Kurisu (over a DIET Dr. Pepper. AMERICA). She has dreams about things that happened, which happen to be some of her more memorable moments with Okabe, like cheering him up, or stitching that coat. They’re only dreams to her, but Okabe tells her they’re real, which makes it harder for her to bring up the fact she’s also dreamed of them confessing to one another and kissing.

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Prior to that scene in the (surprisingly not too shabby) motel room, Kurisu had been her usual tsundere self, having even told Mayushii Okabe didn’t have to come to America, as if testing to see whether he’d listen to such nonsense. At the Rai-Net tournament Feyris invited them too (at Staples Center; nice) we finally see Kurisu wearing something other than her hot pants-and-cardigan combo; the same maid outfit as Feyris and Mayushii. It’s blatant fanservice, and somewhat random, but who cares? The whole episode is a thank you to the fans for watching.

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And it only gets better. Kurisu lets on that she intends to forget all of the weird memory-dreams she’s been having, since they’re not pertinent to the current world line. Okabe tells her it’s fine, but he’s clearly miffed. Then he spots Suzuha getting into a Mustang and has a cab followe her. Turns out it’s Suzuha’s mom, who in another world line met Daru at the Rai-Net tournament, fell in love, and had a daughter in seven years. Another neat little thread.

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But his desperate chase cost him all but 67 cents of his cash, and his phone battery is dead, so Okabe must return to civilization on foot. He does seem like a dude who can’t be left alone lest he get himself into trouble, doesn’t he? Especially abroad.

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Lucky for him, he’s rarely alone, and Kurisu arrives on her proud, pink steel steed to rescue him, just as he once rescued her in another time.

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S;G has always been pretty stingy with color, other than its cobalt sky. But for this final, wonderful scene, the sun sets and fills the frame with gorgeous hues; the perfect backdrop for some straight talk between the lovebirds. When pressed, Okabe admits, he told her he loved her in another world line, and she him. More than that, he still loves her, and always will, no matter which world line he’s in. Just to be clear, he repeats himself, and asks her how she feels.

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And in what’s pretty much a perfect end to an imperfect but still immensely fun epilogue, Kurisu proceeds to respond the exact same way she did the first time Okabe confessed: by telling him to close his eyes. They’re in the desert at sundown with a car with no gas, but I suspect these two crazy kids are going to be just fine.

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Next Week, I review Steins;Gate the Movie: Burdened Domain of Déjà vu.

Sabagebu! – Special – 01

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For those of you who plan to purchase a Blu-ray copy of Sabagebu!, know that… I’m about to spoil the bonus episode that comes on that disc!

For, indeed, I’m not sure if Sabagebu! Special 01 would have much impact if you knew exactly what you were getting into. So be warned! Look away if your disc is still in the mail, cause here we go!

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Entitled “Now There Were 5,” Sabagebu! special is an 11-minute summer vacation escapade. The girls are going to the president’s summer home for some relaxation but no one is fooled: they know Miou will turn it into a survival challenge of some sort, some how.

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And she does, except the obstacle course is not really important, nor all that challenging. Not till they get to the sharks, anyway.

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No, really this episode is about fan service. Knowing, psudo-family-friendly, fan service.

The girl’s strip down when they get to the mansion. The girls wear school swim suits as they trek across the obstacle course. Kaya gives a history on swim suits and on mythology that involve stripping Momoka in her imagination. Maya’s clothes are ripped off and she’s molested by eels.

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Urara gets especially frisky with Momoka’s anus, crotch, and under garments.

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Then Urara gets kicked back into the shark-filled lake and is eaten quite quickly. As her blood begins to spread, Miou proudly says she’s happy they’ve all made it. Then, as the narrator brings us away, Urara’s skull bobs to the surface.

Then there were 5! (counting Platty)

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Woo! That was some fan service! Knowing or not, it was more than a little eye-rolling.

Likewise, even if the girls were annoyed by it — Momoka even throws Platty AT THE SCREEN to get us to leave them alone — I’m not sure how I’d have taken this during the regular season?

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Thank goodness it was still funny!

Sabagebu! has fantastic timing and, above all else, knows how to pull out a surprise just when you think you’ve seen it all. No! I’m not talking about the surprise reveal that the sharks were real: I’m talking about the possibility that they just KILLED OFF A CHARACTER FOR LAUGHS!

Bravo, Sabagebu! Bravo!

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Suisei no Gargantia: Meguru Kouro, Haruka – 01

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So here’s something I wasn’t expecting: a 2-part, hour-long each, OVA extension to the Gargantia series. There it was though and, unlike the ‘unreleased’ and ‘bonus’ episodes that came with the original series’ Blu-Ray release, it’s caca-awful. Still beautiful but man-o-man is this a steamy whale-squid corpse!

Full disclosure: the translation I had access to was laughably terrible. Not even funny ‘Engrish’ bad. Just nigh incoherent and if I didn’t understand a little Japanese, I would have been truly lost by its deep philosophical conversations that were completely missing proper nouns or sentence subjects of any kind.

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For those of you who remember it, Garganita was a lovely, slowly building show about a human from space accidentally re-finding Earth, and finding it not only completely submerged under an endless ocean, but inhabited by space-living-humans’ nemesis: whale-squids.

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It was a pleasantly told story about coming to understand more about people, about machines and momentum that can make conflict keep happening even when it is unnecessary, and it was spiked with great mecha-action sequences and brilliantly detailed backgrounds.

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SnG:MKH keeps the backgrounds and is generally fantastic to look at. However, the first 30 minutes of the story are devoted to a garbled retelling of the series and OAVs to Reema, a new girl in the flying delivery crew.

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I may have been okay with this — I may have been okay with the difficult to follow flashbacks of Chamber set during different times in the previous series that we haven’t seen before OR could have managed the bloated cast that includes all the OAV characters from crazy fleet as well as new ones — but then we got to the bath house/fan service scenes less than 20 mins in…

Really? REALLY??

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I can’t call this OVA bad or even lazy, per se. It does provide original animation for much of it’s flash backs and it’s still lovely to look at. There’s also a new plot, smeared indecisively all over the place too.

Unfortunately, it mostly comes off as talking heads and Reema seems only to exist to flesh out the world for people who didn’t actually watch the original series. Why those people would want to watch this show, and why this shouldn’t be annoying to anyone who did watch it, is entirely beyond me?

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If you can wade through the emptiness of the story telling and don’t mind what feels like an endless number of cameos from characters that don’t matter now (and honestly barely mattered to begin with) then it’s a pretty, unusual looking show with lots of water with no story to tell.

If any of those things annoy you, as they annoy me, or that you haven’t seen the original show already…just skip this thing!

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Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory

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Week five of Hot Summer Flashbacks drags us back to the early 90’s with Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, a 13 episode OAV set in (you guessed it!) UC 0083. For context, MSGSM is a ret-con of sorts, and attempts to show us what exactly happened between the original Mobile Suit Gundam and the first sequel: Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. Thankfully, MSGSM does this job quite well and, while I wouldn’t recommend giving it a watch without prior Gundam experience, it’s definitely worth your time if you liked the 08th MS Team OAV that precedes it.

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On the surface, Stardust is the tale of vengeful Zeon survivors from the final battle of the One Year War run off with a nuke-loaded experimental Gundam and it’s up to a young test pilot and a rag tag force of heroes to stop them before a mega catastrophe can happen. However, since Stardust has to explain the mess that is Gundam Zeta (spoilers), it is also the story of multi-faction politics, characters who admire the ‘double cross’ and the collapse of the Federation’s moral high ground.

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Our hero is Kou Uraki, a 19 year old test pilot and mecha-phile. I use the term ‘hero’ lightly here because Kou’s motivation bounce between revenge, hate, mecha lust, girl lust and momentum more than a meaningful sense of duty or hope in a better future. I didn’t find much to like about his regular scowl, selfishness but what really spays Kou as a central character is his total lack of agency in the plot. He’s just a pilot, and not that good a pilot if I’m being honest, and his powerful Gundam is powerless against the politics going on around it.

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By comparison, Anavel Gato is far more compelling. At first he seems like a ho-hum villain with an ax to grind with the Federation. As we get to know him, and see the string of bureaucratic and/or evil Federation admirals up to no good, he won my sympathy in a way original Gundam’s Char never did. Gato also gave us a smile for shouting at Kou for being inept, and then again for shouting at Kou for earnestly thanking an enemy for lessons as if Gato were just another instructor. In short, where Kou is our proxy for feeling like an angry teenager in the Universal Century, Gato is out proxy for feeling trapped by politics and wanting to take meaningful steps to fix things.

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Unfortunately, no Gundam would be complete without an extraneous maybe-love interest female character shoved in and, while Nina Purpleton isn’t completely awful, I didn’t like her much either. Like Kou, she’s emotionally all over the map. Worse, the abrupt nature of her moods makes her complex loyalty chart less interesting and less meaningful to us.

For goodness sake! Nina is a civilian engineering stuck on a Federation battle ship, responsible for testing Gundams for a private military manufacturing company based on the moon, which is selling tech to both the Federation and Zeon in an attempt to stay neutral, and she has a hate/love relationship with the Federation pilot who flies her Gundams AND a long lost love interest in a Zeon pilot who has stolen them. This should be interesting as hell but it’s not!

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On the up side, Stardust pulls some neat twists and explains the political mess that follows in Gundam Zeta far better than Gundam Zeta does. Right or wrong, the Federation is a totalitarian fist willing to work with villains and sacrifice its own to solidify its power. Right or wrong, Zeon is the space-born’s only hope for independence and Axis (a semi-neutral post Zeon colony in the asteroid belt) is going to pick up Zeon’s torch. Right or wrong, People are willing to shift alliances to save the ones the love or even just save their own skins.

It’s also a good looking show with a solid render quality. Be it pin ups above the pilots bunks, or trash in the corner, Stardust pays close attention to the details.

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On the down side, Stardust has THE WORST MUSIC OF ALL GUNDAM EVER, I hated the protagonist and really most of the Federation cast (the pilots are bizarrely girl crazy, antagonistic and mostly just background fill), and the romantic pacing was jerky.

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In closing, I give the show credit for making its super power Gundams less powerful than the political change in the end. I also enjoyed that the story took its time to unfold and didn’t spell everything out. Still, given how many characters appear in the show, and what the show is ultimately about, I would have preferred the POV being told entirely from Zeon’s point of view. Hell, they have their own internal struggles, villains and heroes without having to focus on the bland bunch of jerk-teens we see in the federation.

8_ogk

 

MAL Score: 7.56

Mobile Suit Gundam IGLOO

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This week’s Hot Summer Flashback is Mobile Suit Gundam IGLOO, the most recent companion tale to the One Year War. Unfortunately, IGLOO is not only jarringly out of aesthetic step with the greater Gundam line (it’s fully rendered CG) but it’s also poorly written. In some way’s the terrible dialog is fitting for a show that looks like the pre-rendered sequences from a PS2-era RPG, as evidenced by this little gem:

Officer A: “Captain they missed us because of the particles” 

Captain: “So! Particles…They missed us due to the particles we scattered” 

In short, even if we didn’t already know the outcome of the One Year War and hadn’t already seen it from 3 other points of view, IGLOO offers nothing to warrant watching it again. Let alone enough reason to watch IGLOO’s 2-sequel OAV series…

4_ogk

Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket

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The third entry in 2014’s Summer Hot Flashbacks is Mobile Suit Gundam 0080 War in the Pocket, which is set on Side 6 during the final act of the one year war and tells the tale of a comparatively small conflict. And it tells it quite well.

Side 6, the neutral colony featured in original Gundam’s relatively bland no-good fiancé plot, turns out to be not so neutral after all and is developing a new Gundam frame for the Federation. As always, Zeon knows this and has sent a special forces crew to blow everything up. (Seriously, Federation R&D must have taken all of Federation Security’s budget because Gundam development secrecy is a joke!)

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The main characters are Al, a spunky kid and military enthusiast, Bernie, a young optimistic Zeon pilot and Christina, a federation test pilot.

I know! I know! Before you run screaming to the hills because this is another Gundam featuring a twerpy little kid that saves the day: DON’T!

War in the Pocket is a coming of age tale with Al’s loss of innocence at it’s core. Al never flies a Gundam and doesn’t save anyone. In fact, the final scene ends with him, sobbing, broken at the beginning of school year ceremony, surrounded by the still-children he used to consider friends.

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Bernie too is a solid, well presented character. From nieve young pilot to grim soul survivor of his squad, Bernie both uses Al’s enthusiasm to Zeon’s advantage and cares for him, knowing full well Zeon plans to nuke Side 6 if he fails. Before the final battle he even leaves a video confession of Zeon’s war crimes in hopes that Al will one day understand.

It’s all quite good and even floats a Romeo & Juliet side plot between Bernie and Christina. In any other Gundam this could have been a poorly paced central theme but here, the love is just a potential and, since they never learn each other’s identity, the tragedy is just for Al and the viewer. By the end, the survivor is happy and clueless, which further crushes Al’s spirit.

Perhaps the casts likable, happy personalities and lack of over the top relationship drama makes WitP stand out most. Sure, every Gundam pulls on the viewer’s sympathies by pitting nice character on opposing sides, but only WitP does it without melodrama.

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WitP is a good looking show. Maybe not as well rendered or stylish as 08th MS team or the Stardust OAVs, and the scope of the conflict is very small — often not featuring mech combat at all. It has plenty of details though, and spending time on a few mobile suits instead of an endless flood of new types, we get some neat looks.

My favorite moments come in the final OAV, when Bernie and Al are scavenging parts for a broken Zoku. We really get to see repairs, guts of the suit, and a process that’s glossed over in the other series.

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In closing, War in the Pocket drives home the idea that everyone could be friends if they could get over duty and the extrinsic forces of war and opposing ideologies that the characters don’t even care about. Its also a digestible, self contained show and the ideal place to go if you want to experience Gundam, without a massive investment.

10_ogk