Sket Dance 3

It’s taken three eps, but I’ve finally warmed up to Sket Dance, and am fairly confident that, time allowing, it will continue to be reviewed here at RABUJOI. It has a cheekiness, spunk, and energy all its own this season, full of rapid-fire quips, silly situations, and above all, excellent rapport amongst the core members of Sket Dance: the effervescent leader Bossun, witty tech wiz Switch, and the strong yet gorgeous Himeko (Onihime) with her trusty hockey stick.

Their chemistry and devotion to one another elevates this above your usual high school comedies. That’s not to say this series is perfect, but it’s definitely better than it started. I didn’t care about the boring kid who took up most of the first week. But now that the series has continued without them (and the opening and ending sequences make it clear there are only three Sket-dan members), we have been freed from that awful male lead. He a red herring all along, and we were fooled.

I’d rather the show not focus on only one person, but on these three. This was definitely a Himeko episode, which showed that even at moments when she is weak and defenseless, her friends will stop at nothing to aid her. Strength is also more than the ability to wail on people. It can be manifested in accepting help from others – or choosing to not wail on people. The latter led to her enemies becoming friends, when bitterness ends. Sket Dance is her church. It is where she heals her hurts. Rating: 3.5

P.S.: Nice Bankai reference.

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Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail 3

Things take a turn for the bloody(er), as Garcia and Fabiola – aided by Rock and Revy – finally catch up with Roberta. And as the title denotes, she has left quite the blood trail. Both FARC and US Army soldiers square off with her, but she won’t be killed, and she has no problems dispatching the vast majority of them. But what follows the multifaceted showdown proves that if she wasn’t mad before all this began, she is most definitely mad now, perhaps even irreversibly so.

Everything she is doing is in the name of Garcia Lovelace, but when he finally finds her, he crumbles from the spectacle before him. Roberta’s sensei (so to speak) manages to subdue her, but he lets his guard down when she offers her body to him. Her belt buckle is a gun (brilliant!) and he’s out for the count. Garcia hears and sees it all, including her extended stomping in of her enemy’s skull. When he begs her to stop, she loses it even more (as if that were possible).

This segment ends with a cliffhanger, as Roberta believes Garcia to be just another figment of her imagination, and pulls a gun on him. We hear a gunshot, but see nothing. Is the one person she swore to protect – the one person she would never hurt – now dead by her psycho hand? If not, after what Garcia has seen – and what Roberta has let him seen – can there be redemption? The meeting has occured; it would seem Lagoon’s job is done, but what is left for them to do? Rating: 3.5

Tiger & Bunny 3

Tiger and Bunny are followed around by cameras to capture their “camaraderie”, and while neither one is interested in it, their jobs depend on perpetuating at least on the surface that they don’t hate each others guts. One thing’s for sure, but this episode’s end, they learn they can work together, and their powers even complement each other – a fact that made an otherwise stale ticking-time-bomb dilemma a little more interesting.

But at the end of the day, it’s still a ticking-time-bomb plot. Also, while I’m sure overt racism wasn’t intended here, so far the only two black dudes with any screentime are an effeminate fop who wears lipstick (but at least is still a hero, even if he is a “flaming” one), and an elevator repairman who set the bomb. When asked why he suspected him, Tiger said he just “looked like your classic bad guy”. That can’t be true…he didn’t have a twirly mustache! Yeah, the guy’s body language was a little off, but still, three eps in and this series’ depiction of minorities isn’t much better than that of early Tintin books.

That unpleasantness aside, I also hope future hijinx Tiger and Bunny get into show off a little more of the awesome, huge, futuristic city they inhabit, rather than them just being holed up in an elevator shaft. I’m surprised Apollon was able to hold an audience for what was mostly a bunch of exterior shots of the tower with lots of sirens blaring and little else. I’d be all for a superhero reality show, but watching superheroes aid in office building evacuations doesn’t exactly get my juices flowing. Rating: 3

Hyouge Mono – First Impressions

I’m a bit late getting to this series, but it was worth the wait. Hyouge Mono is perhaps the odd-man-out out as all the rest of my Spring watchlist takes place in the present or future. This is the friggin’ sixteenth century we’re dealing with, and I have to say it’s awesome. The extreme formality, the excessive exposition, the life-and-death staring contests, they’re all brilliant. I saw some excellent Noh theatre last month and this recalled that old-fashioned but gorgeous manner of speaking.

What is so curious is how modern the show feels, despite hardly ever betraying its proper time. True, the enormous ship might have been anachronistic, as probably were the guns (my knowledge of Japanese history is sketchy at best), but I’m talking more about the smooth jazz opening and bossa nova ending, as well as the Final Fantasy-esque score that complemented the spectacle nicely. Probably my favorite qualities of this series so far is the kaleidoscope of funny facial expressions and those long, tense silences.

Our protagonist Sasuke is quite the character – imminently watchable. He’s also a bit of a tea otaku – he goes to pieces at the sight of some well-regarded piece of the Tea trade – much like Oreimo’s Kirino would over some eroge. In this episode, it was an admittedly-splendid teakettle. I also like how his Lord is always challenging his devotion and mettle – partially for his own amusement, but also because Sasuke is constantly striving to straddle the role of a warrior with what is perhaps his true self – a hopeless aesthete. I look forward to seeing him wrestle that duality in future. Rating: 4

The World God Only Knows II 2

Well...that was easy. It seems almost like Katsuragi’s heart isn’t in this one (well, his heart isn’t truly into anything but games), as his great scheme to conquer the schizo-tsundere is nothing more than a really long date. They manage to separate her feminine and masculine selves by sharing an ice cream cone, but when she duels with her cuter side, they’re – not surprisingly – evenly matched.

So the opening sequence only shows three women, but the first is dispatched in just two episodes? Granted, this arc really couldn’t go any longer without getting quite annoying. Speaking of annoying, Elcee remains an earsore – which brings us to the big post-ending event: another demon girl appears, named Haqua. Perhaps she is the reason there are less girls to conquer this season: I’m eager to learn what she’s all about – and if she’s more tolerable than Elcee. My guess is she is. Rating: 3

Hanasaku Iroha 3

Trust me, it’s not what it looks like…

I’m not going to beat around the bush: this was another 4, giving Hanasaku Iroha the best start to a series since RABUJOI started ratings. It was excellent ~ not quite as good as the two episodes that preceded it, but excellent nonetheless. The author makes the transition from guest (star) to an employee of the bathhouse as we learn a lot more about his character and the lengths the bathhouse staff will go for their customers.

The episode starts with Ohana not being where she’s supposed to be; then we see her, curiously, being tied up bondage-style by this author. Oh no! It’s okay though, it’s just for his writing. This and the erotic scenes in Ohana’s imagination are obviously fanservice, but they aren’t arbitrary, they help to illustrate that Jiroumaru (the writer) considers this place, and Ohana in particular, his muses.

When multiple witnesses catch him with Ohana, he panics, steals their minitruck. The most laid-back car chase ensues, partially due to both vehicles being quite slow, but also because they’re sure he’ll stop eventualy. He even climbs a cliff by the sea and threatens to jump, so distraught is he. Well, he does more than threaten, he does jump. And then the most awesome, unexpected thing happens: Nako frikkin’ gracefully dives in and saves him. Hidden talents FTW! (Oh, and for the record, Nako – knowing how to swim is not useless…especially when you live on the coast.)

Because the whole staff piles in the van to give chase, it’s a bonding experience for all involved. And when the situation is pacified, they all find themselves by the seaside at dusk; a perfect place for an impromptu picnic. Nako and Minko both warm a little more to Ohana, and her grandmother gains more humanity; even telling her departed husband (at his shrine) how much Ohana resembles her estranged daughter, but not with contempt, with pride. Kick-ass characterization. Kick-ass storytelling.

Now if only the Opening and Ending themes didn’t suck… Rating: 4

Ao no Exorcist – First Impressions

While his overachieving twin brother can seemingly do no wrong, try as he might, Rin can’t seem to do anything right. He cannot attend academy due to academic/financial shortcomings, can’t seem to hold down even a meager part-time job, and is always getting in fights. Rin is a reluctant delinquent. But we also learn that there’s a reason for this: he’s literally devil-spawn.

I’m not sure what the full ramifications are, but by episode’s end, Rin is fully attuned to the demonic oddities that spring up in ordinary life invisible to everyone else – except his father and his followers, who are “exorcists”, who gain strength from their faith and release unwitting (or witting) humans from the grasp of demons. Rin is himself demon-like, emitting a blue glow. Yet this series’ title indicates that despite not being human, he will become an exorcist like his father, straddling two worlds while staying on the good side.

I like what i see so far in this, perhaps the series I most anticipated after seeing (untranslated) commercials. It’s more down-to-earth and less cartoonish than Soul Eater, and I’m hoping it will be an entertaining supernatural action/comedy/drama series. The animation and score are both above average, and so far Rin is a likable if down-on-his-luck character. His dad’s a little annoying, but when he springs into action he’s pretty cool. The ending sequence was very slick, too. Rating: 3.5

Deadman Wonderland – First Impressions

Not to compare plights this season, but If AnoHana’s Jintan thinks he has it bad…Igarashi Ginta blows him and everyone else’s problems way out of the water. He’s having a nice quiet lunch in his junior high class with his two best friends, when some crazy “Red Man” (no relation to the rapper) fires purple hexagons into the classroom, slaughtering all thirty students in a whirlwind of blood. Only Ginta survives…and he soon wishes he hasn’t. When he wakes up in bed, he’s arrested for the mass murder.

The media has a field day, and he’s conviced and sentenced to death in a laughable show trial. He’s basically guilty of surviving. This is a parallel to those once-every-couple-years horrendous, inhuman crimes from someone you least expect – they don’t just happen in America, but Japan too on occasion. Only in this crazy-ass version of Japan, the worst of the worst are sent to Deadman Wonderland; part supermax prison, part carnival.

The inmates perform for the amusement of audiences. It’s fun for the whole family! The warden is a short-fused sadistic bitch with a sabre, and the prisoners, including Ginta, wear collars with timers. If they don’t win “candy” by performing at least once in a three-day period, it’s instant death when the timer hits zero. I like these rrrrules!

Things are made even stranger by Shiro, a lithe, spandex-sporting white-haired version of Ginta’s dead friend Mimi, who is a kind of out-of-place guardian angel to him, assuring him they’re friends. If she is his friend, it would seem she’s his only one left in this world. He may look like an innocent, earnest little kid with funny hair, but the world apparently sees something we don’t. Never at any point does Ginta’s plight seem fair, but he’ll have to deal with it nonetheless.

What will probably help him moving forward his his newly-acquired power, based within a red gem the “Red Man” thrust into his chest after massacring his class. This gem gives him the power to save himself and Shiro – via purple polygons – from an intentional “accident” set up by the park administrator (also his public defender) in which a huge pylon comes mere feet from crushing them.

What we know so far is that supernatural powers are at work, and the world is not on Ginta’s side at the moment. Fortunately, he has powers which will make his life a little easier, even if it will never be the same again. Unlike your typical shounen junior high kid, Ginta doesn’t come off as whiny or annoying; his reactions to his situation are natural and he’s very sympathetic as a result. But why on earth did Red Man choose him? Why was he framed? Who wants him to die, but not immediately, and why? Is HE Red Man now? Lots of questions. I’m sure we’ll get answers in the balance of this stark, gut-wrenching, unrelenting series. Rating: 4

Sket Dance 2

Sooo much yelling…

Yeah, Sket Dance is a loud, dumb, manic school club action/comedy. Thankfully, it knows that…mostly. Sometimes the hollering and sheets of paper with what they’re hollering flying around goes on a bit too long. It’s rather crudely made compared to other series too (the dip in quality from Denpa Onna or AnoHana to this was frankly jarring), but I appreciate the energy. It has it in spades.

If it can maintain the dizzying pace, and more than half of the humor clicks, it will work for what it is. It isn’t trying to win any Oscars (or whatever’s equivalent to the anime Oscars). The Sket trio have great chemistry, after all. I enjoyed the first part with the Samurai more than second half with the monkey. I like how they whittled down all the probable reasons for his drop in performance until they discovered it was all about the Friske mints. Like I said, dumb; but entertaining. Rating: 3

[C]: Control: The Money and Soul of Possibility – First Impressions

Okay, it’s official: this season rules. At least as far as first episodes go. Control: The Money of Soul and Possibility is definitely the weirdest series, but that’s why I likes it. It starts a little cryptically; laying everything out without too much explanation, but that’s okay. Sometimes the best way to get things started is to just jump in.

As for our protagonist, Yoga, he is trying to make his own way in cold, unyielding capitalist Tokyo. He dreams of a fixed income with a fixed lifestyle; nothing too fancy, just a modest life with a wife and kids. What we all want, right? But he works numerous jobs while taking university classes, and only has $80 in the bank. Not enough to even go out for drinks. And certainly not enough for a girlfriend.

So up pops a surreal clown-like banker-dude who offers membership into a surreal bank. Yoga initially refuses, but when he suddenly finds 500,000 yen ($6,000) in his account and withdraws some of it, the bait is basically taken. Yoga is a scrupulous fellow who slipped up due to simple human greed, and now he’s by default a member of Midas Bank, which takes one’s “future” (read: life) as collateral in exchange for cash.

It also involves fighting other bank members with elaborate weapons and summoned entities in a crazed-out cyber-dimension, as well as pretty elf-like sidekicks. We don’t know much more about all that, but I’m sure we’ll learn soon. There’s a lot to like about Control: it’s got big, interesting ideas and a big budget to express them. The opening and ending (school food punishment) are the best this season. Looking forward to how strange Yoga’s life is going to get. Rating: 3.5

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai – First Impressions

With yet another gorgeous, well-made series with a immediately appealing cast, this is shaping up to be a great spring 2011 season. The only glaring flaw in AnoHana so far is that it has an obnoxiously long title…and everyone has an ordinary name and a nickname I need to remember. Everything else is solid.

“Jintan” used to be the “leader” of his group of six friends. Then one of them – “Menma”, a frail-looking girl with silver hair – died. With that hole in their collective hearts, they drifted apart. Now high school age, Jintan is a shut-in with social anxiety, and the only one who sees the “ghost” of Menma. He’s having trouble growing up, especially when she’s always whining and hanging off him.

The reason for his trauma is, he felt he wounded her deeply the last time he saw her, and never got the chance to apologize. She was also someone he was in love with, so her loss is something he hasn’t been able to recover from. His friends, while more mature on the surface, nevertheless still share his grief of losing Menma, in their own way.

These six characters are pretty diverse, and even though they’ve just been introduced, I’m already rooting for Jintan to re-unite the group. You want to hope their dormant friendships could weather the storm of – well, life – and all gain strength from the reunion. It doesn’t seem right that they’re apart and cool towards one another right now. And it certainly isn’t what Menma would have wanted. Rating: 4

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko – First Impressions

I’m a fan of Studio SHAFT, ever since the manic-hilarious stylings of Mr. Despair. Though still not complete, I’ve already placed Puella Magi Madoka Magica up amongst my favorite anime. While that Winter anime has a female lead, this show will focus on a male one, named Makoto.

Like another lead this season (Ohana in Hanasaku Iroha), he is in a new town and a new school, with new family of sorts, consisting of his doesn’t-look-39-at-all aunt, and what for most of the episode is nothing more than a pair of legs sticking out of a rolled-up futon.

This girl, Erio, who reveals herself later as an Earth “observer” descended from aliens, could also be related to Nino from Arakawa. She is stunningly beautiful; somebody Makoto will have no problem living with. But she and her “mother” are definitely oddities. Erio’s manner of speaking is very odd indeed. As the straight-man, Makoto wants to try to live as normal a life as possible; going to school, checking out the cute girls, et cetera.

Like Puella Magi, Denpa takes place in a very nice-looking – if less futuro-baroque – setting; a huge and proud-looking city. The animation is very smooth and the colors are very pleasing. We don’t know quite how much absurdity Erio will cause, but I’m sold enough on the charms of the characters and the quality of the dialogue and production to keep watching until I find out. Rating: 3.5

Hanasaku Iroha 2

Another absolutely masterful twenty-four minutes of coming-of-age drama and slice-of-life. Ohana tries to ingratiate herself with her grandma/manager and co-workers by being pro-active. This serves to show them she knows how to work; her useless mother saw to that. But constantly taking initiatives and surprising people is not always ideal in a business as complex as a bathhouse. It’s more about everyone being a part of a well-oiled machine, not acting independently.

Ohana doesn’t keep acting inconsiderate and spontaneous. She vows to change her behavior. But she’s not going to change who she is, and she isn’t going to allow Minko to keep telling her to die, nor Nako to keep being so shy and tight-lipped. These two girls are still not quite her friends, but with much effort, they’re getting there, slowly. I like how nothing, nothing comes easy for Ohana. That’s what makes it so realistic.

An especially great little moment occurs when she’s relaxing outside thinking about boys the very moment Tohru appears. Their non-flirtation in the van which almost gets them both killed, is kind of a wake-up call to Ohana. She can’t just do things her way. Thoughtful effort can be construed as thoughtless to others. Thus, one shouldn’t tell someone to “die” carelessly.

Finally, this episode is just as gorgeous as the first, if not moreso. Not only is the bathhouse itself an intricately-detailed, labyrinthine feast for the eyes, but the town and the skies above it – be it dawn, dusk, sunset or misty morning, are nothing short of breathtaking. The opening theme is really grating, but I don’t care. The show that follows is a home run. Rating: 4