Steins Gate – 07

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‘Cursed with success’…that is where we find Okabe Rintarou at this stage in the game. He wanted to open “Steins Gate”…well, now he has. The question becomes, what to do with this new-found ‘power to change the past’…and how he handles the humongous burden of responsibility that comes with it. Oh, and how to deal with a new lab member who texts him a constant stream of questions with the odd request snuck in.

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Naturally, Okarin decides to use the Phone Microwave try to win the lottery! Not the 200 million-yen jackpot, but the 700K one two tiers down; less conspicuous. But what I like about this is that it’s not just about money. It’s far easier to send lottery numbers to the past to prove the system works than attempting to send, say, instructions for achieving world peace. There’s a much bigger margin of error with something complex like that.

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Mayushii and Kurisu object, but can’t think of a more practical means of testing the phone, so they go with that. During the expeiment, the same hesitation that led to Okarin requesting a lower-tier lottery takes grip, and he wonders if this is really okay after all. Just because one can do something doesn’t meant he must, right?

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In the end, he sends the text…and something happens, something only he is aware of: he finds himself in a time when the experiment they just tried never occurred. This is the first time since the stabbing incident that time has moved to such a dramatic extent. This is no longer the exclusive realm of gel-banas.

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It’s confirmed that this is a brand-new timeline (or world line) when Ruka arrives to report that the lotto ticket Okarin told him to buy was off by just one number. A glance at the coffee table shows a Dr. Pepper, when previously Kurisu said it was sold out and bought veggie juice instead. Yes, a character’s beverage preference factored into his assessment of the timeline changing.

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Far from jubilant or pumped up over another momentous victory, Okarin seems lost and disoriented, and probably due in no small part to the fact that only he remembers the previous timeline, when he sent the lotto numbers back. Just like before with Kurisu being stabbed, he’s all alone in possessing that knowledge.

Suzuha notices he’s not quite right, and even takes the extraordinary step of closely examining his eyes for ‘chips’ or other evidence of brainwashing, finding nothing. If he’s looking for some stability and answers, she suggests he contact John Titor.

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Okarin does just that, but not before shutting down all experiments until further notice and dismissing the lab staff; only Kurisu stays, perhaps worried about Okarin. In the dark the two sit; Kurisu skimming a magazine, Okarin sending a detailed text to Titor and eagerly awating a response. He gets one from Titor, but not before he gets a string of messages from nearly everyone else.

From Ruka’s apology to Daru calling about leaving his wallet in the lab (big mistake!) to a loving chat with Mayushii (curiously nothing from Moeka in that time), it’s almost a showcase of the bonds he’s forged thus far, along with Kurisu being right there in the room with him. Bonds that could crumble or cease to exist if he fiddles too much with the past.

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Titor’s message does little to allay Okarin’s anxiety. His talk of Okarin’s apparent ‘power’ to maintain his memories across world lines and the ‘freedom’ that lies beyond Divergence 1% causes Okarin to slam his phone down in incredulity, half-unwilling to listen to any more (ironic, considering the weird crap he always spews. But then again, he and everyone know that’s nonsense. In this case, he’s not sure.)

The kicker: Titor wants Okarin to become ‘the messiah’ and change the future. He should have added at the end: “No pressure, dog.”

At this point I can see Okarin going in one of two possible directions. He could either press forward, having faith in his abilities and leaning on his friends, or retreat from the whole enterprise, inviting SERN or others to futz with the future in his stead. Neither path is without risk, but I’m hoping he takes the former. Better the devil I know.

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Steins Gate – 06

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At this point, Suzu is about as close as you can get to being an FGL member without being one, which might be tricky what with her apparent incompatibility with Kurisu. But as she overhears from the lab’s open window, much of the “round table” is spent figuring out what to name the time-travelling email.

References to other time travel-related media fly, from Back to the Future to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, before Kurisu settles the matter with the short but memorable “D-Mail.”

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With the phenomenon thus named, they proceed experimentation, operating under Okarin’s prediction that if the microwave is opened at a specific window of time the D-mails point to, the text and banana will be sent back. And sure enough, it works, depositing the d-mail in pieces to five days ago, and depositing a gel-bana back on the bunch.

It’s the latest among increasingly common examples of one of the simplest answers being the correct one. That it was wrought by Okarin, who prefers to “feel” science rather than show his work, adds credence to his indispensability as the one lab member with the faith—or will—to come to such conclusions.

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But as he and Daru hit the store to resupply their food stores, Okarin notices cups of green gelatin, shaking him from his high of victory ordinary life he’s always embellished with the baroque trappings of chuunibyou suddenly isn’t ordinary anymore. Shit is real, and it’s dangerous.

I for one appreciate S;G for maintaining that while Okarin has gotten by through various means outside of his control, he still doesn’t have any control. He may well be in over his head, and he knows it.

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What he doesn’t quite know is who Kiryuu Moeka is and why she insists on texting him so persistently. I love how she even tries to communicate with him in person through texts, and is crestfallen to learn his cell phone isn’t on him (but of course it isn’t enough for him to say, ‘it’s not on me’, he has to mention ‘it’s being used for a history-making experiment’. I also like how Moeka pretends Daru isn’t there, which is the proper response to someone looking you up and down.

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While Daru was leering at Moeka and Okarin was wigging out over green jello, prodigal perverted genius girl Kurisu was continuing the experiments, which leads Tennouji to complain about the intense vibrations. Okarin appeases him for the time being, but Kurisu already has the jist of the D-mail process, including the fact that one second on the microwave timer equals one hour back in time. Her work here makes me glad someone in the lab has the diligence and the attention span to…do the work.

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Okarin celebrates the occasion with another grand declaration that is in no way shape for form accurate (they weren’t the first to develop time machine, and they didn’t ‘develop’ it so much as ‘stumble upon it’). But it seems again like the general putting on a brave face in order to maintain morale.

The fear and doubt he’s hiding manifests in a bizarre dream that is equal parts disturbing and cryptically informative. A voice from the event horizon of a black hole urges him to look forward, not back, and ‘reach the end.’

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He awakes to a one-sided text conversation by Moeka on his phone that is still in progress, right up to the point he’s able to open his door after she sends a text saying she’s about to knock, but before she actually knocks, requesting to see the 5100.

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Her explanation that texting is easier for her than talking seems to hold water, as her texts are a lot more expressive. This idea of such an expressive personality hiding behind a stoic, taciturn mask, yet asserting itself digitally, is highly intriguing. Moeka is the type who believes the proper combo of emoji will be enough to convince Okarin to lend her the 5100.

It’s also a lot of fun to watch Daru, Mayushii and Kurisu arrive at the lab one by one and immediately start talking about their top-secret time machine. It’s not particularly irresponsible behavior on the part of the three, just an overabundance of casualness that comes from a group gelling (no pun intended) nicely in a short time.

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But that also means Okarin has to bring Moeka into the fold as Member #005. I like the choice, sudden that it is, but one of these days, someone is going to hear too much who isn’t so harmless. And that’s assuming Moeka is harmless.

Kurisu has brought scientific discipline to the operation which is key, but someone will eventually have to be thinking about security, beyond recruiting anyone within earshot. I just hope they don’t think about it too late.

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Steins Gate – 05

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So…what’s that little thing in your hand, Suzuha? As if she’d just sit there and tell us. This isn’t Recon in G, no siree. S;G isn’t just a show with a clever, intricate strategy for presenting its story. It’s also keen to influence our own strategy for watching it, keeping things light and breezy for the most part but ensuring the occasional “Suzuha Battle Stance” pops up, to get the gears in our head turning; to keep us on our toes.

S;G wants us entertained, but it also wants us alert and thinking. And for a tense few seconds, as the camera closes in on what sure looks like Suzuha’s killing intent, I thought the show was about to blow everything up.

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Hey, get that off the floor…it was just washed!

 

What if Tennouji hadn’t snapped the part-timer out of it? Maybe nothing; maybe something I shudder to think about. But anything seems possible now, so I am now on my guard: assigning increased worry about anyone venturing beyond the walls of the lab henceforth.

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When Okarin and Kurisu return with the PC, Daru speaks of an Okarin as if it was some kind of mythological creature that can do things “only an Okarin can do”, which is why they love him. Kurisu can’t help but blurt out “I don’t admire him, though.”

Not only is Daru aptly describing Okarin’s significant but not immediately apparent value, but Kurisu is unable to stop herself from answering a question no one asked, thus betraying her growing affection for the guy.

Daru also helpfully points out the yuri possibilities now that there are two female lab members, while Mayushii’s claim of being a ‘hostage’ almost leads Kurisu to call the cops. It’s not just that Okarin’s value isn’t immediately apparent: it takes a lot of digging and enduring to find it. It takes time.

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Suzuha has far less trouble peacefully conversing with Okarin; not surprising considering it sure seems like she’s there to be his friend and confidant. Her dead friend who knew about the 5100; the fact that she instinctively reacted to Kurisu as if she were an imminent threat (and reacts to a helicopter the same way); her hint that Kurisu doesn’t know anything…yet; her warning Okarin to be wary of her; they’re all more tiny gears and sprockets being set into place, within some elaborate timepiece.

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It actually feels like a pretty momentous occasion when Kurisu dons a spare lab coat. For one thing, she herself can’t help but comment how wearing such coats ‘always calms her down’. It’s an opening for Okarin to espouse his own affinity for them, even going so far as to call Kurisu “perfect”, which is, context aside, one of the nicest things he’s ever said to her.

But the coat is also a symbol that she’s being drawn closer and closer into the Future Gadget Lab. I wouldn’t be surprised if whatever Kurisu did in one world line or another that Suzuha is aware of, it all started with Okarin encouraging Kurisu to join their crusade.

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That’s ultimately Okarin’s not-so-secret ability thus far: his ‘gravity’, as in his ‘gravitational pull’: Mayushii; Daru; Feyris; Suzuha; Moeka…they’ve all been drawn into the orbit of Planet Kyouma. He may suck at debating physics, or playing Rai-Net Battler; he may even be just a man-child playing at science; confident the lab coat and some BS are all the qualifications necessary.

But he and only he has made all of these people join him willingly, and together they can accomplish great, or terrible, or terribly great things. He…just…really has to watch it with the yelling at women for calling him by the wrong name. There’s no need for that.

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Most of all, I just like how clear the show makes its characters’ roles. Okarin and Kurisu brought the 5100, and now it’s up to Daru to make it sing; all the others can do is wait and kill time in the interim, playing games and confessing their mutual love for the bold flavor of Dr. Pepper.

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When Daru is done, SERN’s dark secrets are revealed. Kurisu is shocked enough that they achieved a degree of time travel, setting aside the fact that all fourteen human test subjects ended up in another time, turned into the same green jelly as the microwave bananas.

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As for why they’re green jelly, she explains in concise layman’s terms what’s going on: the subjects are being send through a very tight hole. Like trying to fit a large sponge through a small hole in one’s hands, the contents gush out.

It’s an explanation Daru finds really erotic (which…it kind of is, dirty mind or not), but it’s also an apt way to describe how I see Steins;Gate story so far: something dense and saturated being eased through the television screen, gradually so far, but with no indication of when the flow will increase; only suspicions.

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Faced with the chilling discovery of not one but fourteen terrible, covered-up deaths as the result of a top-secret time travel experiment, Kurisu can understand Okarin leaving the lab to get some air. She joins him to ask what their next move should be, but I definitely detected genuine concern for him in the visit.

So it’s a shock to both her and me when we hear that trademark demented laugh of his rise up from the solemn silence, along with the pronouncement that they, the Future Gadget Club, will beat SERN to viable time travel and ‘change the world’s ruling structure.’ It’s the same Okarin Mad Scientist bluster we know and love…but this time, it feels more than anything else like he’s putting up a brave front.

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Steins Gate – 04

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Yes, Okarin has discovered a dark secret that involves at least one death, but to Steins;Gate‘s credit, the higher stakes aren’t used as an excuse to suck all the fun and joy out of the episode. In fact, this might be the funniest episode yet, as Okarin goes to great lengths to acquire the infamous IBN 5100 Portable PC.

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The plan to pursue the 5100 is a seed in part planted by his new neighbor Suzuha, who insists to her boss and Okarin that she’s an adult and a soldier, respectively. Does this mean she’s, like, a real soldier? Why is she really there? It can’t just be because she loves CRTS…

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Daru is like the universe—constantly expanding.

As for Mayushii, she isn’t throwing out any weird vibes this week, though she does reach for the sky again, something she does often enough that Okarin gives the ‘move’ a nickname: Stardust Handshake. Of course, Okarin seems to give everyone and everything nicknames…some more than one.

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Meanwhile, Kurisu sulks in her hotel room. She’s held the belief that time travel is theoretically impossible for so long, and then that tall, crazy man-child had to come into her life and throw everything into doubt. Or rather, he’s forcing doors open she’d rather were kept closed.

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With Daru out cold after his hacking binge and Mayshii having to work at the cafe, Okarin goes out into Akiba in search of a 5100 and as fate would have it, crosses paths with Kurisu. He asks her to come back to the lab and assist them, but she’s wishy-washy, which is apropos, since their next stop is a laundromat.

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Here, Okarin finally gets his ‘assistant’ “Christina” to reveal why she doesn’t want to accept what she saw: because she doesn’t want to ‘make the same mistake’ her father made. Did her father get into time travel research and was laughed out of the scientific community? Or did he actually travel through time? We don’t get that much, but we do get this:

You don’t have to come anymore. But I’ll tell you this…No one else will ever have the title of Lab Member 004. That number will be yours forever.

That’s one awesome parting speech. So awesome, in fact, that Okarin couldn’t help using it even though he still had to wait for the laundry. Kurisu is the one who leaves, but not before he tells her about the importance of the IBN 5100, which she dismisses as more nonsense.

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Okarin gets a tip from Mayushii that Feyris may have info on the old PC, so Okarin, already on his cell in a no-cell restaurant, spills nowhere near enough change to pay for his meal on the table and books it to the cat-maid cafe, where a “Feyris Cup” is underway. Feyris makes him play her at Rai-Net Battler in exchange or information. Okarin explains his laughably quick defeat with the exuse that he’s short on time.

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Feyris’ info is scant at best, but the last thing she mentions—that she last saw the PC at an Akibahara shrine—is all Okarin needs to know to determine his next destination.

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After a phone conversation in which Okarin and Kurisu bicker over the phone like an old married couple (and they truly are fun to listen to), Kurisu gets that destination out of him and meets him there, much to his surprise and her…well…self-disappointment?

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A programmer friend of hers confirmed what he was saying about the 5100 wasn’t nonsense, so there she is, giving him yet another chance. We also get to see the friendly and far less combative Kurisu as she formally meets Ruka—without learning his true gender.

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According to Ruka’s father, the IBN 5100 was donated to the shrine by a man ten years ago, who said one day a young man would come asking about it. Ruka’s dad has no problem letting Okarin borrow it. The only hitch is that the old ‘portable’ PC is quite bulky. As Kurisu balks at Okarin’s orders to assist him with it and the two bicker some more, Ruka’s dad also remarks how the two must be old friends.

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Truly, they must have been fated to meet and bicker. Okarin wins this particular battle, and Kurisu helps him drag the 5100 back to the lab. Soon, Daru will be rested and have clean clothes, and SERN’s secrets will be laid bare. If the damn thing works, that is.

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Stray Observations:

  • Okarin considers an exchange of information with “Shining Finger”, but she has no information to share, so Moeka remains in the background this week.
  • He also calls Kurisu “Assistant”, “Christina”, and “The Zombie”. Kurisu would rather he call him one of those than keep alternating, while I think Okarin prefers to alternate, depending on the situation.
  • Okarin seems disappointed that the spinning of the clothes doesn’t ‘change’ them.
  • “Christina was struck by lightning on the grassy plains of Arkansas…” I wouldn’t have minded him going on a little bit further with this tale.
  • “Theories are nothing more than words.”

Steins Gate – 03

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Rintarou: Then is this too, the choice of Steins Gate?
Kurisu: ‘Steins Gate?’
Daru: Something Okarin made up. It doesn’t really mean anything.
Kurisu: I’m sure. He’s mixing up his German and English.
Rintarou: …Take your shoes off!

It’s becoming more and more of a delight just to listen to Rintarou, Mayuri, Daru, and now Kurisu talk, particularly to each other. Just three episodes in and the voice actors are already like a finely-hewed ensemble, never missing a beat. I’m also loving the fact that, at this point, the title of the show is just gibberish Rintarou made up.

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Daru: Miss Makise? Miss Makise? Could you say, “Who’d eat a pervert’s banana, anyways?” once more, do you think? If possible, with an upset expression.

They get to play some jazz this time, as Kurisu invites herself in (she says she knocked), and makes a couple of snide remarks about the ‘lab’ and Japanese men. When she concludes she’s dealing with two perverts, they retort that it essentially takes one to know one, something she cannot dispute, flushed as she is.

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They eventually come to an agreement in which Kurisu (or “Christina”, or “Zombie”, or “Perverted Girl Genius”) will join the Future Gadget Lab as Member #004 (which really makes Mayushii’s day) and won’t sue the guys for sexual harassment in exchange for access to the phone microwave that’s turning bananas into green gel.

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With an accord reached, they get to work testing the microwave, thoughtlessly using Mayuri’s candy as a subject. When she opens the door to it before the experiment is complete (not wanting the food to burn), it causes an electrical surge that cracks the desk clean in two. Rintarou instinctively pulls Mayuri to the floor and shields her.

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The equipment is trashed, but with two concrete pieces of evidence—both the banana and his text messages about Kurisu’s stabbing—he’s ready to declare that what they’ve gone and made, quite by accident, is nothing less than a time machine, something that upsets Kurisu to the point she runs out of the lab, never to return to the episode.

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Talk turns to SERN and the Large Hadron Collider (it’s very nice how the show draws from real-world science, as Psycho-Pass drew from philosophy), the ominous Organization that John Titor said would ‘dominate the world’ in the 2030s, when he’s from. With their time machine in pieces and more proof needed, Rintarou directs Daru to hack into SERN to see if they can find any dirt.

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The seriousness of Okarin’s request is such that Daru is utterly distracted from the fact that Okarin is straight-up walking out on the bill. Let it be known that Rintarou is not utterly without skills; for one thing, he can slink away from financial responsibility like a boss.

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Outside the lab, Suzuha is goofing off with her bike, but accidentally overheard Rintarou and Daru’s talk about SERN. She even assumes Rintarou just got a text about ‘someone dying.’ Rather, he’s getting texts almost non-stop from Moeka, eager to get info on the rare PC, the IBN 5100, which Suzuha also knows about because she reads @channel. Suzuha’s timely arrival on Rintarou’s doorstep, along with her rapidly amassed knowledge of the situation, is contributing to her giving be a strange vibe.

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As Daru pulls an all-nighter attempting to hack into SERN as ordered, Rintarou hits @Chan, where ‘John Titor’ continues his lectures for anyone who will hear. Rintarou inserts himself in the discussion, and peaks Titor’s interest when he says there was another John Titor who arrived in 2000. World line shifts delete memories, he says, and yet Rintarou retains memories from another world line.

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To go off on a brief tangeant, I must say I’ve gotten used to the curious palette of Steins;Gate, in which most colors are extremely understated and low in saturation, while the sky is a deep, blazing cobalt blue quite different from the azure skies of our own world. It’s a small detail, but I felt it worth mentioning, since I’m sure the contrast between the deep dense sky and the comparatively washed-out world below was a very conscious aesthetic choice.

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Speaking of weird vibes: I didn’t just get them from Suzuha this week, but from Mayuri as well. She plays dumb all the time, but could that be an act? Did she intentionally sabotage the phone microwave at that crucial time for some reason? Is the staying close to Rintarou for reasons other than love or loyalty to a childhood friend? These are merely rhetorical questions based on random thoughts; no need to answer them.

Vibes aside, Rintarou and Mayuri still have adorable chemistry, best demonstrated by their little hot soup can content exchange negotiations on the roof.

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When they return to the lab, Daru has broken into SERN, though not with admin privileges. “Wow. I don’t understand, but wow,” Mayushii pointedly remarks. There, to everyone’s shock, most of all Rintarou’s, they find the ‘smoking gun’ he was hoping for: an email about how generating a miniature black hole with the LHC was successful, contradicting their public position.

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When they dig deeper into the “Z-Program Experiment Report 137”,  they find that the result of the experiment was “Error. Human is Dead, mismatch.” Now the Future Gadget Lab is really in the tall grass, where they’ll have to watch out for snakes.

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Steins Gate – 02

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We the audience are totally on board with the fact time has somehow shifted, and can fully appreciate how the presence of a suddenly-alive Makise Kurisu is a highly strange occurrence to Rintarou, and evidence of a very strange phenomenon afoot.

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However, Rintarou has a way of going about things precisely the wrong way, getting all up in Kurisu’s face and poking and prodding her like a test subject. If it wasn’t for Daru’s interceding, he would have likely ended up with a bloody nose at best or arrested at worst. Put simply: this exchange shows that Rintarou has a lot of work to do before he can start convincing people strange things are happening, and a lot of that is in the presentation.

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Total Defeat

When Kurisu is the one who ends up talking at the re-scheduled lecture, she starts in an undesirable direction for Rintarou: calling the very concept of time machines “foolish”. Rintarou rudely interrupts, but Kurisu is ready to take him down in a calculation-laced argument she dominates utterly, undercutting his credibility even more.

Here is a fellow scientific mind with published articles who would have possibly lent at least a half-open ear, had Rintarou simply interacted with her in a more civil manner. The message here is clear: whatever is going on, he’s the wrong messenger for it; he’s not ready for the big leagues.

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“But he’s a guy…”

Steins;Gate takenth away from Rintarou, but it also giveth, by introducing the very feminine Urushibara Ruka. Unlike Kurisu or even Daru, she’s fully invested in his Chuunibyou delusions, taking the 980-yen sword he ‘bestowed’ upon her and promising to swing it every day until she ‘awakens its power’. The only problem is Ruka isn’t a ‘she’ but a ‘he’.

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Whoa…that was an incredible hand-touch right there.

Ruka and Mayuri both seem to harbor romantic feelings for Rintarou, which explains their higher ‘tolerance’ for his tomfoolery. It also makes them biased in the eyes and minds of others, meaning they wouldn’t be taken any more seriously than Rintarou himself if they vouched for his story. More likely, Ruka and Mayuri would ‘believe’ what he said, but just like they ‘believe’ in everything else he says, out of a kind of obligation.

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Add Amane Suzuha to that list. While only the thinnest of love interests so far, she is a real-life girl of an age with Rintarou, who was just hired (as in, right in front of him in the shortest job interview ever) to help the landlord’s TV repair shop. Suzuha’s comments on ‘what’s popular these days’ and unfamiliarity with fresh produce suggest a certain precociousness that could make her another member of what I’ll call, for now, “Okarin’s Panel of Scientific Peers.”

They’re not like-minded for a multitude of reasons…but they do like his mind. Rintarou tossing her an ear of corn to Suzuha at the last minute demonstrates that for all his ranting and maniacal laughing, he can be a kind and affable fellow, not to mention fun.

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While on a Dr. Pepper-fueled all-night internet excavation, Rintarou confirms that the lecture was cancelled due to the satellite crash, that Kurisu was never stabbed, making him wonder if he simply hallucinated the whole thing.

Then things get stranger when he finds an “@chan” poster posing as his hero, John Titor, an alleged time traveller who arrived in 2000 and wrote several books expousing theories about “World Lines”, the infinite timelines one can travel through and manipulate with the proper means.

However, a Google search of “John Titor” brings up almost nothing, while his shelf of John Titor books is empty. The John Titor he knew simply doesn’t exist.

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The next morning, while on an intersection, he hears the clicks of a smartphone camera from a bespectacled lady, who retreats. He catches up to her and learns she’s documenting everywhere she’s been and everything she’s seen. My immediate impression is, ‘this lady is going through something like the same thing as Rintarou.” She also shows him an old-fashioned PC, and when he doesn’t recognize it, asks him if he knows who does.

Here, again, Rintarou shows his capacity to function not only as a normal member of society in spite of his apparently permanent Chuunibyou syndrome: instead of simply giving this random stranger Daru’s contact info, he acts as a go-between instead.

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He meets with Daru at the cat maid cafe where Mayuri works (wearing a blond wig) , along with another member of Rintarou’s ‘fan club’, “Feyris”, who is also fully-invested in an ongoing chuunibyou conversation about her training. Daru, for his part, curses RIntarou, apparently for inflicting such nonsense upon one of the girls at his preferred cat maid cafe. Yes, I’m aware of the irony in that statement.

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But I’m not sure Feyris is necessarily a ‘victim’ of Rintarou’s nonsense; she may have been into it before and is simply happy to have someone on the same ‘wavelength’. There’s also a certain portentousness to the message “The World’s In Danger!” written in ketchup on their omelette rice; as if Feyris is subconsciously attuned to matters she’s not conciously aware of yet.

In any case, Daru identifies the PC as an extremely rare and commercially unsuccessful early model that may not have actually ever existed, something he’s probably right about. Rintarou also gets an extremely florid text from the mysterious girl, one Kiryuu Moeka, and tells Daru to thank him for not exposing him to a potential nutcase. Yes, I’m aware of the irony in that statement, as well.

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Daru: Why would you think that?
Rintarou: It’s my intuition as a mad scientist.
Daru: So, no reason.

That’s the relationship of these two, in a nutshell, so far. Daru is willing to go along with all these strange inventions, but he reserves the right to provide skeptical/snarky commentary in the process.

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But when the banana (CLEARLY MARKED as the EXCLUSIVE PROPERTY of Mayushii, yet stolen anyway) they put in the newly-adjusted Phone Microwave (name subject to change), and it disappears, only to show up in green ‘gel-bana’ form, yet fully attached to the bunch, Rintarou suddenly gains a degree of credibility…even though he’s just as freaked out as Daru.

I’ll admit the first episode was a little awkward, but this one made great strides, efficiently introducing vibrant new faces, nudging forward the engrossing time travel mystery, and employing lots of witty banter that had be laughing a lot more than I was expecting.

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Steins Gate – 01

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Back in Spring of 2011 I missed the Steins;Gate boat, but its MAL score of 9.18 (presently good for second all-time) got my attention, and I’ve been meaning to give it a look for a while now. Look for occasional retro reviews this Winter.

I found the first episode of Steins;Gate a bit dizzying, temporally speaking, and a bit drab aesthetically, but what stood out as an immediate strength was is characters, starting with Okabe Rintarou, AKA “Hououin Kyouma”, AKA “Okarin”, AKA “Mad Scientist”, voiced with bawdy relish by Miyano Mamoru.

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That’s a lot of nicknames, but he gave two of them to himself, while Okarin is how his two friends usually address him. That self-appointing of nicknames is part in parcel of Rintarou’s apparent self-importance and intricate attention to self-image. His overly colorful, often paranoid rants point to severe chuunibyou despite the fact he’s college age. I also love the fact that he talks to himself on the phone without shame.

His cheerful childhood friend Shiina Mayuri, AKA “Mayushii” (Hanazawa Kana), is a nice foil, down-to-earth yet adorably air-headed, and also supportive in a ‘not sure what you’re saying Rintarou, but you got it, teehee!’ kind of way. She also calls herself Okarin’s “hostage”, a chuuni term she probably got from him.

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This opening episode not only introduces the core trio, but a fourth named Makise Kurisu who takes Rintarou aside and asks him what he was going to tell her fifteen minutes ago, even though he’s never met her and only knows her name from a science magazine.

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The show makes a strong statement when their innocuous first encounter is followed up by Rintarou discovering Makise in a pool of her own blood, stabbed to death. Even stranger, when he hits “send” on a text message reporting the stabbing, it seems to affect the very flow of time.

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When he bumps into Mayuri, she has no answers for him about what exactly happened and where all the people on the street went, but they’re interrupted by falling debris, after a goddamn satellite crashed into the very building where they just were to hear a lecture about time machines.

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After an OP that’s smack-dab in the middle of the episode, we find ourselves on the other end of a camera where Rintarou is introducing himself and his colleagues, including Hashida Itaru, or “Daru”, a hacker, otaku, and friend since high school, who seems to highly value comfort, convenience, and girls both 2D and 3D.

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After unsuccessfully trying to get their weird “Braun tube” TV fixed on the cheap by their brawny landlord (he charges two thousand), Rintarou and Mayuri enjoy the curiously de-saturated sunlight in the park. (Mayuri also gives Rintarou his second Dr. Pepper of the episode, which he (rightly!) proclaims to be “an intellectual drink, for the chosen ones.” Watching Mayuri gives him a glimpse of her looking upon a grave from god only knows what time.

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We also get a look at their “Future Gadget Research Laboratory” in Akiba…which kinda just looks suspiciously like a normal apartment, aside from strange inventions laying around. One of those inventions is the “Phone Microwave”, which is just what it sounds like, only it turns bananas green, soft, and slimy. Why they’re microwaving bananas in the first place isn’t explained.

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While running errands with Daru, Rintarou compares their cell phones and sees the text he sent about Makise’s stabbing which caused a time jump only he is aware of. Even more bizarre, the text he sent was broken up into three separate texts and sent to the past.

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And who should come into view when they alight from the elevator but Makise Kurisu, alive and well, if a bit pensive. Something very odd and most likely inadvertent is going on, having something to do with Rintarou’s weird inventions, and again, since even his two closest friends only take a fraction of what he says seriously, he’s probably going to have trouble talking about it without them laughing/shrugging it off as ‘Crazy Ol’ Okarin’.

But we know…as ridiculous as Rintarou can be, he’s not crazy…this stuff is going down, and it’s probably just the beginning. I am looking forward to where this ride takes us.

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Hot Summer Flashbacks: Mobile Suit Gundam

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When I started watching Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn in March 2010, I enjoyed its sharp visuals and rich sci-fi action. Unfortunately, having only seen a small and disconnected number of entries in the franchise before hand, I lacked context and found Unicorn a bit “been-there, done-that.”

Now, with the release of Gundam Unicorn’s final chapter, itself the current final chapter to the Mobile Suit Gundam original universe, I’m taking the summer to look back on this, one of anime’s biggest, longest running franchises, in its entirety, in narrative order, with one review per week, per series.

Will I learn to appreciate Gundam more (like our beloved Macross) or will I still find it flat, underwhelming and dated? Only time and 185 episodes will tell.

Mobile Suit Gundam Universal Century Timeline

Note: I chose not to watch either the Gundam F91 movie or the Victory Gundam TV series because they take place 27 years after Gundam Unicorn and have very little to do with the Universal Century story line. At least, not enough for me to want to watch 51 more episodes…

Mobile Suit Gundam

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The original Mobile Suit Gundam aired way back in 1979, kicking off the franchise with 43 half-hour episodes, which were eventually re-edited into 3 compilation movies. While the compilation movies are considered superior by Gundam’s creator (they feature fewer extraneous plot lines and omit a few egregious toy-centric mech designs) I chose to view all twenty-one hours of righteously retro animation in its entirety.

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Set in Universal Century (UC) 0079, MSG follows White Base, the Earth Federation’s mothership for human-shape combat vehicles (mobile suits), and its crew in their year-long fight to end humanity’s first war in space. White Base’s adversary is Zeon, a group of Nazi-like space colonies under the control of the despotic Zabi Royal Family, which is ostensibly fighting for the rights of space-noids (humans born in space) and autonomy from the Federation government. Even though many Federation officers are portrayed as jerks, the politics are pretty clear: Zeon is a murderous bunch and clearly the bad guys.

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While both sides use a hodgepodge of retro-futuristic technology, Zeon developed mobile suits first and has way more of them. The Federation’s only hope is Gundam, a red white and blue samurai-looking mobile suit with a space-fighter built right inside of it. With its light saber, energy rifle and armored shield and lesser mech allies Guncannon and Guntank, Gundam faces off against an endless parade of Zeon mobile suits, each progressively more powerful and goofier looking than the last. (Note: Guntank and the goofiest mechs were largely stripped from the compilation movies)

Gundam’s explanation for why mobile suits are the best weapon is actually rather interesting. With the discovery of radar jamming Markov particles, which are the byproduct of firing energy weapons and exploding reactors, computerized tracking and targeting objects in space is a thing of the past. Since mobile suits are relatively small and don’t rely on easy-to-spot high speed engines like fighters, they are ideal for sneaking up on a target and being hard to hit. Strap on a big gun and, even with a limited amount of ammo, most full scale battleships are toast.

However, since mobile suits have limited flight range and no means to keep their pilots alive for extended periods of time, I found the rock/potato/flamethrower game of defending the mother ship—while hunting down the opponent’s carrier—fairly sensible.

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Our story begins on Side 6, a relatively distant colony and home of the Federation’s secret mobile suit development program. Unfortunately, the program has been discovered by Zeon and most of the colonists and military personnel don’t survive the attack.

Our hero, Amuro Ray, is one of the survivors. Amuro is just your average teenage civilian robotics engineer with OCD (he can’t even be bothered to stop tinkering with electronics during evacuation alarms) who’s father is coincidentally the chief engineer of Gundam. Amuro is generally unlikable, being a carefully balanced mixture of selfishness, dull wit and sexism, and his destiny to jump into Gundam and save the day is obvious from the get go.

As unoriginal and unlikable as Amuro is, Gundam offers us a few refreshing notes. I most appreciated that Amuro has zero interest in Fra Bo, his childhood friend and fellow refugee-turned-soldier. Any other high school mech drama would have thrown a groan-worthy string of will they / wont they plots, and maybe even a hot spring. Sure, Amuro eventually gets a love interest, Lala, but it’s more a subject designed to make him question why he’s fighting than anything else. (Lala is a bonkers, psychic Zeon ace pilot AND already in love with Amuro’s antagonist…)

I also appreciated how ambiguous Gundam is over the loss of Amuro’s father. We see him sucked into space (wearing a space suit) during the opening battle but Amuro doesn’t witness it and never really brings it up. The father shows up much later in the show and it does bother Amuro that he’s gone crazy (from oxygen deprivation) but the drama is limited to a single episode.

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Speaking of villains, Gundam’s antagonist is one of the more puzzling characters. Char is Zeon’s super ace pilot with a passion for the color red (he wears a striking red uniform, shiny metal hat and pink mask and often flies a red mobile suit). He is secretly the heir of the previous Zeon dynasty and out for revenge but that comes and goes and he spends most of the series aimlessly chasing White Base and locking light sabers with Amuro. Char should be interesting but I found him inconsistent and convoluted. (especially when he puts his revenge on hold to work for the Zabi family, tirades at Amuro for an episode, then immediately betrays the Zabi again)

Thankfully, Char is more eye-rolling than outright unlikable and I genuinely enjoyed watching his decision-making get junior officer after junior office bumped off in the name of figuring out how to take down Gundam.

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Speaking of people biting the bullet, Gundam’s formula is simple, efficient and predictable. The story is told over several multi-episode chapters, each opening with a new villain, a new Zeon mobile suit type and/or a new ally and addition to White Base’s mobile suit pool and closing with the death of that villain/ally.

Interestingly, we often see events unfold from the perspective of recurring “Villains of the Week.” This second point is important, as it makes great effort to portray many players in Zeon as likable and the ‘in another world we could have been friends’ cliche goes a long way to offset the otherwise one-note evil of Zeon.

As a general rule, if you weren’t in White Base’s original crew, you’re not gonna make it. From background characters to recurring guests, ally and enemy alike: you’re going to die and it’s usually in a hilariously melodramatic way. Thankfully, few of these deaths take the classic ‘last words of the hero at his death bed’ approach. More often then not, they will simply get smashed flat. It’s grindy, but not unwatchably so.

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Gundam has three acts: Travel to Earth, Fight Across Earth, and the Final Conflict leading to Zeon’s asteroid fortress. The final act also introduces the concept of New Types, which are humans who have evolved a greater sense of awareness in space. The New Type plot toes the line of being out of place in the sci-fi setting, but it works okay. (Amuro suggests everyone on White Base is probably a New Type, given the number of absurd battles they’ve survived on instinct and luck alone) The idea is solid, if not poorly-executed, and (SPOILERS!) the New Type plot thread carries over across most of the future series.

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Despite being dated, Gundam’s art style has charm. Its The Jetsons meets Battlestar Galactica sensibilities are unique and the color choices often make it easy to follow who’s doing what and what side they are on. Furthermore, Gundam portrays a tolerably nuanced reality and knows when to leave details ambiguous.

In one example, at the end of the middle act, the fiancee of a previously fallen villain comes after Gundam with a handful of experience-less soldiers, no mobile suits of her own…and a big ballroom gown. After fainting and falling to her death (a nasty face-plant right in front of Amuro) the crew is completely stumped as to who she was and why she came after them in the first place. Her tragedy is completely without context for them and with a perplexed shrug; they bury her near the wreckage and move on.

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Sadly, as Gundam was funded to sell toys, some of the Mobile Suit designs are absolutely silly. From beaver-looking underwater suits to the bizarre Mega-fighters that Gundam rides inside of, there are plenty of nonsensical sights.

Likewise, the melodrama induced eye-rolling more than once. Between Amuro’s sexism and teen angst, Char’s inconsistent motivation and the Zabi family’s over-the-top Space Nazi antics, dialogue could get pretty cringe-worthy. (I’ll say nothing about the three little kids who laugh and play around the ship until the very end) Characters also tend to change their minds quickly for the purpose of the plot.

In closing, if you have any interest in the franchise—or the genre it spawned—the original Mobile Suit Gundam is a great place to start. Not only does it contextualize future installments, it has guts. And to me, that counts for a lot.

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MAL Score: 7.95

Note: one of my favorite moments came in the first episode where Amuro cracks open a three ring binder and learns how to pilot Gundam during the opening battle. Three Ring Binders are the future!

Mawaru Penguindrum – 24 (Fin)(Retro Review)

Originally posted 24 Dec 2011 – Shoma confronts his brother, who has Himari’s dead body and is working with Sanetoshi, but Himari convinces him to stop the madness and let go; Kanba disappears. Ringo is confident she knows the words that will transfer fate even without the diary. Doing so means she’ll be swallowed up by flames, but Shoma sacrifices himself in her stead. Life returns to normal, but Himari and Mario are both healthy, Himari is friends with Ringo, and Shoma and Kanba are little kids walking by from the first episode, talking about the penguin drum.

Reset! Well, in this series, a reset made sense; the entirety of what we saw until now had taken place in a world where everyone was cursed from the stalemate between Sanetoshi and Momoka. Despite how fun and filled with love the Takahara siblings’ lives were, such a life was unsustainable. Kanba had to pay a considerable moral cost, and all the care he acquired for Himari would eventually be rendered ineffective, resulting in her death. With the curse lifted, Himari and Mario are no longer constantly near death, and Ringo can be herself. The cost was that family structure, and the new world we see lacks a painted house and a whimsical bedroom. Only the teddy remains, with a note from her no-longer-brothers stashed inside, somehow immune to the fate transfer.

For an episode in which Shoma and Kanba had a lot to say as youngsters, it’s a little disappointing that the producers didn’t secure good, authentic child voices. This has actually been a problem throughout the series, and it was hard to ignore during crucial scenes. But that’s pretty much our only gripe with what is the first series of any length we’ve rated 4 out of 4 (by our old v1.0 rating system, that is) for its whole run. No series throughout that run has come close to its attention to detail and unique mix of mystery, romance, sci-fi, metaphysics, and slapstick comedy. It fleshed everyone out and had terrific buildup to a fantastic finale. We’ll miss it.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

AnoHana – 11 (Fin)(Retro Review)

Originally posted 24 Jun 2011 – That was a properly fitting and satisfying finale. It cemented its place as by far the best series of Spring 2011, along with perhaps the most consistent, moving and best-executed eleven-episode series we’ve ever seen. we were expecting a good ending after the quality of what had proceeded, but we could never have predicted just how much dramatic ass it would kick. Nothing in it felt the slightest bit contrived or out of place; it remained fiercely true to its characters, and above all, was a surprisingly happy ending, and the perfect place to close the book.

After Menma fails to pass to heaven, the busters regroup and it turns into an all out CryFest, with everyone pouring their guts out. Tsuruko gets worked up for the first time. Even Poppo loses his laid-back composure. And in this mega-catharsis, they all finally realize that none of them are alone in their inconsolable grief or guilt. They’re all in the same boat. They can all forgive each other, and themselves. They all love her. And I’m sorry, but Anaru’s little eyelash moment was the perfect way to re-lighten the mood.

After this, Jintan races home to collect Menma so they can finish things and say goodbye. But she’s fading fast; it turns out, her wish was inadvertently granted: the wish to make Jintan cry. She promised his mom she’d do it. More specifically, to make him break out of his shell and properly grieve, embrace the pain and the love that’s released, and to be able to move on and live his life. By the time he reaches the base, he can’t see her anymore, and is sent into a panic. “Oh no,” we thought; “Will this just end with him still ‘crazy’?”

Thankfully, we had no reason to worry. She says goodbye by hastily scrawling goodbyes to everyone, which sets off another CryFest. All that’s left is to finish the game of “hide and seek” – at the end of which everyone can see Menma – and get Jintan to cry once more, and then she disappears, content and with her wish fulfilled. Closure at last!

What follows is a phenomenal end-credits epilogue, in which Jintan goes back to school and shows signs of giving the long-suffering Anaru a chance; Poppo is working construction and studying for a diploma; and Yukiatsu and Tsuruko become an item (her tiny smirk is awesome. We honestly wouldn’t mind these two as the focus of a spin-off).  This series was an emotional roller coaster, and its makers knew the viewers wanted and deserved this ending and wrap-up. Menma’s ultimate gift was bringing these friends back together.

So what have we learned? Well, first of all, director Tatsuyuki Nagai and scriptwriter Mari Okada put on a romantic drama clinic, and we shall most definitely be looking out for their next works. Secondly, don’t collapse within your own grief. Everyone has it; let it out and make your true feelings known. Don’t let ghosts haunt you. Er…don’t go up to a hotel with a guy you just met. And, of course stay in school!


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Mawaru Penguindrum – 23 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 16 Dec 2011 – Himari only has one night to live, and Shoma doesn’t leave her side. She tells him in a dream to save Kanba, who has fallen victim to a curse that turns his love against the world. He is Sanetoshi’s puppet, and Sanetoshi wants to destroy the current world. Sixteen years ago, he and Momoka met. He killed her, and she killed him, but each only halfway. She ended up within penguin hats, while he ended up in two black rabbits. Sanetoshi uses Kanba to lure Ringo to the aquarium, where he burns her diary. There’s still hope as long as the hats survive, but Shoma can’t do anything without his brother.

Does this episode border on the overly melodramatic at times? Yes, but as far as we’re concerned, the series has earned it, and it always keeps things grounded with the cartoon penguins. It’s taken twenty-three episodes, but nearly all the pieces have fallen into place. We know Sanetoshi is the villain, and he’s recruited Kanba with the promise to save Himari if he helps him destroy the world. Kanba only cares about Himari and nothing else, but could that attitude be the product of the curse brought upon the Takakura siblings sixteen years ago? In any case, Momoka and Sanetoshi had a spat, came to a dead draw, and now that duel is about to continue, with proxies on both sides.

Remarkably, this episode was yet again able to draw out some really strong emotions without resorting to the killing off of anyone; it appears at first as though Kanba shoots Shoma in the gut with a real gun, but it’s only penguinshot. Then a teddybomb explodes right before Ringo, but she’s relatively okay, and only her diary burns. But now it seems that while the loss of the diary is a blow, it doesnt mean the end. It was only a record of spells of fate transferrance, the object itself wasn’t important. Everyone’s still alive for now, but if things are going to stay that way, the brothers are going to have to make up and take out the ghost that haunts them. Can’t wait for the finish.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

AnoHana – 10 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 18 Jun 2011 – This series’ ability to really tug at the heartstrings without coming off as schmaltzy, while simultaneously infusing so much life and emotion into every single one of its characters, never ceases to amaze us. This show has almost rendered RABUJOI’s 4-ranking irrelevant (snicker) – every episode has been excellent and a cut above most of the rest of the spring 2011 season, now winding to a close. This was one of the best yet, when all the build-up around Menma’s “firework send-off” comes to a super-dramatic head. Not one minute is wasted.

Poppo, planner-in-chief, plans a farewell party. Yukiatsu isn’t planning on going at first, preferring to wait for the rocket launch itself. But after meeting Anaru, he comes up with a plan, one that is both devious and necessary for catharsis. He convinces Anaru to re-enact that day years ago, when she asked Jintan if he loved Menma. This time, he tells the truth: he does. We thought for a moment Menma was going to disappear right there – but she just cries, and later tells him she loves him too, and probably would have ended up marrying him if she was still alive. This kills Jintan, because this is also what he wanted.

He’s so desperate to keep her around, he even asks if its okay if she just stays. But she wants to go to heaven; his mom taught her about reincarnation, which is her only hope of her being able to talk to everyone else. Jintan wants her to himself; but considers that maybe he alone isn’t enough for Menma. It isn’t fair to her. Saying he loves her out loud sends Anaru into a crying fit, at which point Tsuruko tells her she too has her unrequited love, (Yukiatsu), but her situation is worse: If Menma goes, Jintan may warm to Anaru, but Tsuruko never thinks Yukiatsu will come around to her.

This brings us to the climactic firework launch, which is gorgeously presented; we particularly loved the quick “camerawork” which lent to the tension and gravity of what was about to happen: Menma is really going to go, and Jintan doesn’t open his mouth to stop it until it’s too late. It’s up in the air, and with it, quite a bit of weight. Only one problem: It Didn’t Work. Menma is still there, and all the issues that come with her still being there remain as well. That’s fine with Jintan, but the obvious question is, what now? Only one episode left; will Menma ever go, and how will that happen?


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 22 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 10 Dec 2011 – Hikari and Hibari visit the Takakura residence to thank Himari for the scarves, but she’s no longer there. She took off to try to convince Kanba not to throw his or anyone elses’ lives away for her sake. He won’t listen, and would sooner turn the world to ash than let her die. Masako also tries to get him to snap out of his obsession, but he starts an operation of car bombings that get him surrounded by police. He heads down into the bowels of Tokyo to escape, but they’re there too, and he gets shot. Masako decides to protect him by acting as bait.

Kanba’s stint as a terrorist leader is short-lived this week, as he initiates several brazen attacks with his car bomb smartphone bowling app (!), and essentially escapes too slowly. Neither of his siters want him to continue to serve the “curses” of Sanetoshi and the dead Takakuras. But Kanba is a stubborn kid, and he’ll to absolutely anything to save Himari. Her and Masako’s feelings just bounce off him. He’ll die for her…and by episode’s end he’s well on his way to just that.

Kanba, Shoma, Himari, Masako, Mario: it would seem fate was against all of them. Even Momoka couldn’t escape her ultimate fate of oblivion. Love is certainly losing out to fate and curses at this point, but we’re not about to throw in the towel and lebel this series as fatalist or pessimistic. Love, and life, are down, but not out. Double-H didn’t just show up at random at this point in the story: they have to have some deeper purpose.


Rating: 9 (Superior)