Ao no Exorcist 25 (Fin)

Shura, Triple A, Yukio, and Rin join forces to attack the Gehenna gate, but there are too many small fry in the way. Bon, Izumo, Renzo and Co. execute a plan to telegraph sunlight from the Vatican in Rome to Japan, in order to weaken the demons. Rin and Yukio ride Kuro up to the now-cleared gate and envelop it in flames, closing/destroying it. One month later, things have returned to normal at the True Cross Academy, though Rin is more proactive in interfering in higher-ranking exorcist operations. They also visit their mother’s grave – their birthplace – in the forest.

This was a somewhat disappointing finale. I was having a hard time staying invested in the face of a lack of any significant peril, and lots of strange, random things. I mean, wtf was the deal with those mirrors? Where did that come from? Throughout the episode, you see swarms of small black demons flying around, but not attacking their prey, but simply flying by as people yell “there’s too many of them!” With Shiemi out of harm’s way and Yukio back to his old self, no characters were in immediate mortal danger this week. No suspense. Also, Yukio is suddenly able to hear Rin’s cat now, and transforms like his bro when he unsheathes the sword? Huh?

The “everything’s back to the way it was” epilogue wasn’t the best move either. It only reinforces the fact that nothing that happened in that big climax was any big deal. Even visiting the place where their mom gave birth to them fell flat for me; I mean how is someone who slept with Satan a “wonderful person?” Offspring bias, I suppose. And while Kuro is proof that some demons can be tamed, why is Rin rushing headlong into battles he’s not authorized to fight? Or, more to the point, if he’s capable of taking care of demons, why’s he still in school? I dunno…not a great ending to what was a pretty decent series.

Rating: 2.5

Sket Dance 25

Switch’s flashback continues. Having recieved a death threat, Sawa enlists the aid of the Usui brothers. But when he’s shot down by Switch for the umpteenth time, Kazuyoshi tells them to go off without him, believing Sawa’s best off with Switch. They head out, and a girl named Yukino arrives at Sawa’s door. She describes a creepy stalker who pulled a knife on someone in middle school, who Kazuyoshi spots behind a pole and pursues. When he catches him, he learns that Yukino is the knife-wielding stalker. She finds Switch and Sawa and pulls a knife on them. Switch protects Sawa, takes the blade in the chest, and dies. Kazuyoshi is devastated, and blames himself for his brother’s death. Sawa moves away, and the three are down to one. To honor his brother’s memory, Kazuyoshi takes on the title and appearance of “Switch”, and studies hard to amass the great amount of information he possesses. Bossun reaches out to him and he joins a new trio in the Sket-dan.

I’m not sure why what was a consistently zany, over-the-top comedy would want to try straight-up serious drama, but Sket Dance really hit it out of the park with this Switch arc, totally changing gears from its usual fare. We’re thrown into a very tragic story, where a brother has a bad day and says some stupid things he shouldn’t, and it gets his little brother killed. When you add it all up: Kazuyoshi not accompaning Switch and Sawa; his curt last words to Switch; and finally egging on the psychopathic Yukino then letting her loose, it’s hard to argue with him. Gone half-mad with guilt and grief, Kazuyoshi makes an incredible decision: to stop being Kazuyoshi.

He hasn’t spoken since the day of that decision, except with the software than combines his voice with Masafumi’s. And the young Switch we saw this week and last was actually someone we never knew; it was the big bro who turned out to be our Switch. Very strange, but it definitely works. This wasn’t a perfect episode – Sawa was kind of a bland airhead most of the time, and the story relies a little too often on convenient coincidence, but as this was one of the best episodes of a series that has been anything but serious to this point, I’m giving it top marks.

Rating: 4

Tiger & Bunny 25 (Fin)

After Bunny defeats one H-1, Rotwang unleashes an entire squad of them at the heroes. Saito manages to put them into safety mode using a code Bunny’s parents devised. After killing Rotwang, Maverick attempts escape, but his big mouth gets him in trouble when its revealed he’s being filmed by the Hero TV crew. He takes Kaede hostage, but Kotetsu wakes up and knocks him out. He wipes out his own memory and is arrested, and everyone is out of harm’s way. Lunatic intercepts the paddy wagon and kills Maverick for his crimes. Tiger & Bunny both retire, but get back into the superhero game a year later.

Tiger & Bunny wraps up with a solid, satisfying finale, with its fair share of action, slapstick, and a lot of heart. This series always seemed to care a great deal about its cast, and whenever it focused on one or another, it really made the characters shine. Those character pieces always worked better when the series took more introspective views of the characters, rather than bundle them all up with little to do, like the last few episodes where they had to deal with Maverick. But Kotetsu really took center stage – apparently “sacrificing” himself last week, only to make a hero’s comeback at the most opportune time – to look cool in the eyes of his daughter.

This is another one of those “life goes on pretty much as it has” endings, where Tiger returns to the Hero biz, not out of selfishness, but because Kaede told him to. The fact that his powers are only good for a minute don’t faze him; one cannot hold back the tide, as the late Legend proved. He’ll just do what he can to help out and protect his family. As for Barnaby, he wasn’t interested in being a hero without Tiger by his side, so when Tiger returned, so did he. A testament to how far their friendship has come.

Rating: 3.5

Hanasaku Iroha 25

On the eve of the Bonbori festival, it appears that Kissuiso is overbooked. The staff is overworked, accidents are happening, and everyone is more focused on “winning” the battle with the Madam Manager. Ohana is caught in the middle, but little by little, everyone realizes they don’t have the guests’ comfort at heart. When Tomoe sprains her ankle, The manager fills in, Ohana’s mom volunteers to help, and they get back to “festing it up”, rather than just grinding.

The Battle for Kissuiso was fought for all the wrong reasons. Last week I sided with the staff for wanting to keep the inn open, not thinking about how it would have to change to become profitable. This week, I was on Ohana’s side, who was basically on her own side. The frantic inn where the customers’ needs were obstacles to overcome was not the Kissuiso she loved. Overwork was making the staff short with her, and clumsy in their duties. Tomoe’s ankle sprain provided the catalyst to snap everyone out of it. Jiromaru’s corny narration was icing on the cake.

On the evening of the festival, Sui, Satsuki, and Ohana marching three abreast down the hall is a triumphant sight, and unlike the first half of the episode, everyone is working like a well-oiled machine. Not only that, they’re enjoying what they’re doing, rather than just doing it mindlessly in the pursuit of profit. This was a great final “inn arc” episode that brough everything and everyone together beautifully, and was simply oozing with emotions. It’s still in the air whether Kissuiso can make it, but it seems the finale will deal primarily with Ohana and Ko.

Rating: 4

Bakuman 25

I stress that it would have been truly shitty of the producers of Bakuman to not let Mashiro and Takagi get serialized in Jack after all of this effort. But after Koogy turned out to be a bit of a red herring, The duo known as Ashirogi Muto surged past both Nakai/Aoki and Fukuba to become one of the four manga that won. This was a great ending to the first season, and now the real story begins.

This final episode itself detailed how the editors’ meeting goes down and how they make their selections. The Editor-in-Chief is pretty clear-cut on this process: if the manga he reads is interesting, it’s a “yes”; if it isn’t, it’s a “no.” As they go through manga one by one, we experience the same anxiety and impatience as both the authors and their editors. No matter what they try to do to kill the time – play cards, chess, smoke, or just sit and mope – their thoughts are consumed with the results of the meeting, which will determine their ultimate fate.

Not to be overlooked is the whole reason Mashiro is doing this: for love. Miho finally calls him on the phone and talks to him, and they both discover that it isn’t nearly as scary as they thought it would be; in fact, it’s the tops. Forgive the cliche, but you can really feel the love here. It’s a patient, slow-burning, deliberate love, a love still conditional on that anime, but they’re certainly on their way, and I’ll be rooting for the fulfillment of their dreams in season two, fully cognizant that that won’t happen easily. The easy part is probably over. Rating: 4

Series Mean Ranking: 3.654

Star Driver 25

Gahh, I just watched the second-straight finale of a Fall 2010 anime in which the bad guy is defeated by an Epic Punch To The Face. Only in Star Driver’s finale, both the puncher and punchee were characters of consequence, with stakes of even greater consequence still. Youthful super-evil/vain father, Tokio/Head, wants to destroy/rule the entire world, and by breaking the last seal, Wako, and Sugata and Samekh under his command, he can do it, too.

But Takuto/Tauburn won’t go away quietly, nor let his dad get away with hurting his friends, which leads to the eventual punch to the face. To get to that point, he depends on all of the members of Glittering Crux expelling Head, retaking their reborn cybodies, and fighting alongside Tauburn (both out of simple morality, but also because he scorned them, using Crux as pawns all along). Thus we get an epic multi-cybody battle with the same bite-and-burn animation we’re used to, only turned up to 11. To paraphrase one Crux member, they finally get to fight in a battle that matters, not just one that serve’s Head’s schemes.

But what of Sugata and King Samekh? Sugata is ready to sacrifice himself to seal him off once and for all and prevent the end of the world Head talked about. However, Takuto and Wako share a deep long look at one another, and Takuto then decides to destroy Wako’s cybody and break the last seal anyway. WTF, you may ask; but they simply couldn’t and wouldn’t let the love triangle be resolved so cheaply; by Sugata’s death. Takuto follows Samekh into Earth orbit, where he destroys him and saves Sugata. Thus Wako is still not forced to make a choice she apparently can’t make. And neither is the show.

So yeah, Star Driver. It’s been a long ride, and I have to say I enjoyed it overall. The Tauburn introduction scene got really old, but for the most part the weekly battles stayed fresh and brief. Takuto was a hero who was always upbeat, never angsty; the core of him, Wako and Sugata had great chemistry from beginning to end, and their romantic dilemma was never annoying. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get lost keeping all the characters and Crux factions in check, but having seen the series reach its conclusion, there would be value in re-watching it someday. Rating: 4

Series Mean Ranking: 3.615