Hyakka Ryouran 4

While Jubei continues to harbor some mysteries (why did she fall from the sky, etc.) we at least learn something new and significant about Muneakira: when Sanada kisses him (while locked in an extremely compromising position) she is transformed into a master samurai as well. Princess Sen probably wanted to test this as well, but the opportunity to kiss him never came up. Seriously, aren’t these people adults?

Anyway, while Sanada has gained supersized wind-emitting fans (perfect for slicing strategic bombers), she cannot control the sudden surge in powers. Interestingly, her personality doesn’t change like Jubei’s does, and Muneakira isn’t paralyzed either. This probably means there’ll be a similar result if Sen, Hanzo, or Matabei kissed him.

It’s intimated that without master samurai, Great Japan would fall to invading armies (apparently there’s no JSDF in this alternate present). So it’s good that Muneakira can make them simply by kissing people. But how and why, we simply don’t know yet. Rating: 3

Yosuga no Sora 4

In this episode, a sister does get kissed by her sibling, but it isn’t Haru’s, it’s Kazuha’s, and it’s so Akira can make a point: don’t sacrifice happiness and all that because you’ve fallen for a guy and aren’t paying as much attention to her. It’s clear Kazuha feels guilty that Akira’s life turned out the way it did (if I’m not mistaken, Akira’s mother is the shopkeeper, and making ends meet hasn’t been easy), but none of that is Kazuha’s fault.

The same exact thing is happening with Haru and Sora, because he’s fallen for Kazuha, he isn’t spending any time at all with his sister. Even with the end credits sequence, we aren’t quite sure why their parents are dead, but for all intents and purposes, Haru is all Sora has, and if their distance widens, there could be trouble.

Haru’s waking dream while Kazuha is playing the viola is pretty funny (and suitably over-the-top), especially since it isn’t played as a dream at first. But it establishes that he indeed loves her, or at least wants her. I’m glad that, unlike Tarou and Yuuno in MM, this series kept developing Haru and Kazuha’s relationship, rather than just hitting the pause button. Rating: 3.5

Psychic Detective Yakumo 4

Now we’re learning a lot more about Yakumo. He’s in his mid-twenties, his mother was afraid of him as soon as he was born, tried to kill him when he was still a little squirt, and took off somewhere, never to be seen again. Obviously, he’s confused and bitter about all this, and combined with the eye, he’s grown up into the wolfpack of one that he is, refusing to share feelings with anyone. Haruka seeks to change that.

But then, crap, she wakes up in a gynecologists office, and has no idea how she got there. That is never a good thing. Worse still, the dark, stylish couple watching Yakumo from the shadows have taken an interest in her, and the doctor who delivered Yakumo (at that same office) seems to be in cahoots with them. Really not good.

According to Yakumo, there are two kinds of people in his life: those who find his eye strange, and those who want to profit from it in some way. Interestingly, Haruka doesn’t seem to be either. But by meeting and befriending him, she may be kissing her ordinary life goodbye. Rating: 3

Otome Youkai Zakuro 4

This is the episode where Susukihotaru and Riken are fleshed out, both as individuals and as each others companions. Like Agemaki with youkai (initially), Susukihotaru is scared of humans, and always keeps her head down in public. It’s also revealed she’s empathic (kinda out of the blue, but okay), which is handy when the lieutenant you’re paired with hardly ever talks.

Anyway, there’s a pretty unexceptional mission where the other two thirds of Spirit Affairs (Zakuro and Agemaki get the day off) encounter a comely human woman who employs a youkai and needs a demon sword taken off her hands. Pretty dull, but it provided a chance for vital characterization, as Susukihotaru and Riken have a little more depth now.

Ganryuu, Daidai and Kiri are pretty much useless, as usual, but at least the preview hinted that the next episode would focus on them. That could be horrible, or it could redeem them. All I know is, they are currently dragging the whole show down; though not as much as the annoying little youkai children. Rating: 3

Oreimo 4

In a series with several otaku as among the main characters, an episode was inevitably going to involve Summer Comiket, and this is it. Before that, however, Kirino has her ‘normal’ friends over and orders Kyousuke to stay out of sight. He doesn’t, and one of the girls (voiced by Saki from Eden of the East) seemingly takes a liking to him.

Fast forward to Tokyo Big Sight, which is a really nice depiction of an enormous, bustling convention in the dead of summer. Lots of waiting in line and crowds and battling staff members at video games, there’s a great energy to it all. And then that girl I mentioned before, who liked Kyousuke, she sees Kirino fresh out of Comiket – and the two worlds collide.

The thing is, this girl Ayase doesn’t sound that bad. She witnessed Kyousuke in the classic “falling on a girl and breaking the fall with her boob” – with his sister, no less. But rather than overreact, Ayase knew it was simply an accident and, unpredictably, didn’t judge him. So maybe she won’t judge Kirino for being an otaku. We’ll See. Rating: 3.5

Arakawa Under the Bridge x 2 3

Arakawa 4 serves up a hearty balance of tenderness and genuine knee-slapping comedy. It marries the intimate and the absurd. It’s characters may be eccentric, bizarre, and even clinical, but they’re also honest and surprisingly believable. For seemingly the first time, Recruit seems to genuinely anger Nino when he catches him listening to her cassette tape.

Rather than leave it there in the first eight minutes, the entire episode covers Recruit’s many attempts at damage control, to coax Nino down from her electric pole perch, and then from all of the girls who form a conclave around her and initially refuse to let him state his case.  However. the ladies can’t stand in the way of love. Rating: 3.5

Star Driver 4

I love episodes where things aren’t what they seem. The TNG episode where time stops for instance, and Picard draws a smiley face in the smoke of a warp core breach. In this episode of Star Driver, a cybody who can create illusions isolates Takuto and Wako in Zero Time.

…Only the pilot isn’t a willing participant; a member of Glittering Crux drugs her and makes her operate it. Once Takuto figures out how to summon Tauburn in this space, the enemy cybody makes a hasty retreat. But even though there’s no climactic fight and Wako is never in danger, Takuto learns more about how far Crux is willing to go, and resolves to defeat every last one of their cybodys.

As I said, I enjoyed the dreamlike atmosphere of this episode; it’s relaxed pace, the chemistry between Takuto and Wako, and the weather that naturally transitions from dreary rain to a gorgeous, clearing sky. Finally, this episode broke the formula for the previous three, before it got too monotonous. It switched things up a bit. Rating: 4

Bakuman 4

Again, the sheer magnitude of work necessary to become a mangaka hits Mashiro and Akito like a ton of bricks. A ridiculous amount of work is involved in preparing a manuscript, and a high schooler can’t go long without sleep; believe me, I know. Being a trained artist myself, I shared Mashiro’s frustration with being unable to instantly master a certain type of ink pen; in his case, knowing full well he doesn’t have a future unless he does. He needs to practice; but if his grades fall, he’s toast.

This episode is also where the two aspiring mangakas realize they’re not alone; others have the same dream they do. When Akito flips through a magazine and discovers a 15-year-old published mangaka, the pressure is on, and it’s felt. Neither of them are peerless prodigies, and must rely on hubris, effort, and luck in their venture.

I do worry that Mashiro has a good chance of repeating his uncles mistakes re romance; he doesn’t even have Miho’s email yet. Still, it was reassuring to see them pass each other on a street – Mashiro with Akito, Miho with her mom and sister – and pause and look back at each other not once, but twice. Rating: 3.5

To Aru Majutsu no Index II 3

The conflict between Amakusa and the Catholic church becomes much more complicated, and as usual, Touma and Index are caught in the middle of an elaborate conflict between the biggest Christian faction and a crafty elusive Japanese offshoot. We don’t see the Catholic’s diversionary battle, only the stealthy rescue mission, which gave everyone something to do. It’s always good to see characters contributing and not just sitting around with their mouths hanging open.

I don’t know what’s more ridicuous looking: dozens of attractive young nuns with swords and spears, or ordinarily-dressed Japanese people with the same weapons. I’m also unsure of where Misaka fits into all this; so far, Index II has been all religion and magic and no science or espers. Of course, like Touma himself, this show has a penchant for keeping its audience in the dark until it’s good and ready to reveal stuff. Rating: 3

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru 3

Soredemo continues putting out exceedingly charming slice-of-life comedy (two stories per episode). Part 1’s art detective story proved that Hotori is in fact good for something besides bitching, complaining, and f-ing up. It even managed to make subtle homages to two other Shinbo works (the “camera shutter eyes” of Bakemonogatari and the black-and-white “despair takes” of Zetsubou-sensei).

Part 2 finally introduces the blonde-bobbed girl, who Hotori naturally mistakes for a young boy at first. We don’t find out much about her besides the fact she’s cute, fairly athletic, and has a cat. She’s also older than Hotori and is in her class, although being the ditz she is, Hotori never noticed her before. We’re sure to find out more about her and how she’ll fit into the maid cafe side of the story in time. Rating: 3.5

MM! 4

MM! four takes a break from the potential romance emerging between Tarou and Yuuno, and Mio devises a different strategy for breaking his masochism: the power of love. This involves a date between Mio and Tarou that is very carefully choreographed by the school nurse to result in Tarou falling in love with Mio through a number of intimacy-building situations.

Tarou is confused about the line between reality and fantasy regarding Mio’s emotions, but later finds out she had a fever the entire day and takes her to the hospital. He once again proves to her that when someone he cares about is in a spot, he’ll put everything on the line to help that person out. Mio’s respect/admiration of Tarou increases, but at the end of the day he remains a hopeless masochist, so I suppose a new scheme is in order. Rating: 3

Amagami SS – Ai Nanasaki Arc

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying this was the best arc so far in Amagami SS. This arc was all about winning the heart of Ai Nanasaki, an underclassman like Sae, but not so much shy as aloof, moody, and an initially hard nut to crack. In other words, she was the most complex, intelligent, and interesting girl to cross Tachibana’s path so far. Her seiyu (Yukana Nogami) did an outstanding job mixing of strength and vulnerability in Ai’s voice. Having an awesome secret hot spring to take Tachibana in order to confess to him doesn’t hurt either. Christmas skinny dipping: that’s how romance is done.

I particularly like the fact that even though falling in love is affecting her swimming negatively, she realizes that’s what’s happening to her is more important than sports statistics, and lets it happen. Neither she nor Tachibana are ever annoyingly coy or reticent, but gradually and naturally their relationship develops and matures at a refreshing rate of speed (necessary with only four episodes to work with). I fear Amagami may have already hit its peak with girl number four, as I seriously doubt the dumb girl who thinks she’s fat or the straight-arrow class prez will be able to top Ai. Rating: 4

Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt 4

Was another highly kinetic smorgasbord, replete with foul language, violence, nudity, and other mature themes. Part one chronicled Stocking’s sudden need for a diet, in which the ghost to kill was a multi-uddered dessert monster. Part two involved a lingere run in which the ghost of discarded panties actually ate P&S’s weapons, necessitating improvisation on Panty’s part.

So yeah, this series is formulaic (monster a week), but not in a bad way. Four episodes in and it’s still funny and fresh. Garter’s fascination with young boys is definitely unsettling, but then he is a priest, and if the two angels he administers are a slut and a glutton, it kind of fits – whatever church he’s with, it’s very forgiving. Rating: 3.5