Huey and Dalian travel to a fantastical land where they meet the young apprentice and granddaughter of a powerful shamaness. A plague of giant insects are threatening her town and its people, and even the poisonous herbal salve her grandma concocts is ineffective against the fearsome beasts. Huey eliminates the scourge by reading a book from Dalian. It’s then revealed that the two are back in Huey’s house, going through and fumigating books infested with bookworms; the entire story took place in the world of one of those books.
Hey, now that’s more like it! After an underwhelming, dawdling episode last week, the series goes a little high concept by dumping us in a totally new world, richy-animated in gorgeous hand-scrawled pencil and pastel. The world, and its heroine Ira, instantly reminded me if that nature-lovin’, ass-kickin’, heart-o-gold hippie princess, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. That’s a good thing. Ira doesn’t play a huge role here, but I do like how we’re first thrust into this world from her perspective, and we only meet up with Huey and Dalian when she meets them by pure chance.
The swarms of giant insects – or Baziumu – similarly reminded me of Nausicaä’s Ohmu. They don’t last long as a threat, but the brief period that they are, they’re sufficiently frightening. But the fact that they represent actual bookworms attacking the book – and the story and illustrations therein – is superb. In effect, this was another episode of Dalian and Huey hanging out in his house, only this week they were transported to another world rather than bothered by their imbecilic friends. Good stuff!
Murphy’s Law is in full force as a crustacean-like elder bairn kills Saya’s entire class, getting cheap shots in as she battles it. When it takes Yuuka, her last close friend, she goes into red-eye mode and viciously slays the beast. Only the class chairman survives, along with Tokizane, who skipped school. After her teacher asks her if she killed everyone, Saya wakes up, numb with loss, but also lost herself; beset by images in her head whenever she tries to remember anything.
So, after establishing a very pleasant, chummy atmosphere at Saya’s high school – a safe haven of sorts – the last few episodes have methodically, mercilessly, and effortlessly torn to gory shreds any sense of security and virtually all solace. All is lost. Saya proves yet again that while she excels at slaying elder bairns, her everyone-protecting skills leave much to be desired. Of course one can hardly blame her; circumstances couldn’t be worse, as the venue is rife with defenseless, horrorstruck students. It doesn’t take much for them to all become corpses or simply piles of miscellaneous pieces in pools of blood. It’s sickeningly visceral, horrible stuff.
It’s also obvious that if we ever get straight answers about who exactly Saya Kisaragi is, what her true role is, who she promised, and why she keeps eating grimauve, it may not be till the bitter end. The series continues to keep its cards close, and despite all the hints the dog is throwing her way, Saya remains extremely confused about her raison d’être. If she is the town’s protector, well, she’s failed. Dozens of people are dead and she couldn’t stop it. At this point, I’d be questioning whether what I’m doing is right or even beneficial too.
When Nemoto, a yakuza, threatens to raise the rent of an arcade the NEETs frequent, they convince him to take part in a bet. If the NEETs beat him at baseball, the rent stays the same. To their surprise, it’s a real baseball game, not a video game, they have to participate in. Nemoto also fields ringers and is himself a former ace pitcher. To beat him, Alice and Narumi need to know what kind of player he was.
I have a soft spot for baseball episodes – even DS9 did one for crying out loud – especially when they bear some resemblance to the sport of baseball. This episode did, somewhat. You had your signs, your uncaught strike three, your out pitch, et cetera. Baseball is every bit as much about brains as it is about brawn, and considering the NEET team had more than a few capable players, I wasn’t that outraged that they won. Whether Narumi could actually hit a home run off of Nemo just because he knows what’s coming is a stretch, to be sure. But as an in-between episode it wasn’t bad.
The arcade at stake is apparently where the NEETs spend a lot of time; the owner calls them regulars. Yet nine episodes in and I believe this is the first time we’ve seen them there. Usually they’re just in the alley behind Min’s ramen shop. It was hard to care about the stakes considering this episode was the first time we learned of the arcade’s existence, and Narumi & Co.’s fondness for it. Still, I liked how they still needed to do some detective work to “solve the case” (win the game). And Alice actually going outside and participating in athletics? Unprecedented.
Those who run No.6 show just how evil they can be as they plow through the western district, indiscriminately killing and destroying. Nezumi begins enacting the plan to save Safu / bring No. 6 down, including luring a No. 6 official with Dogkeeper for info, then getting captured and sent to the correctional facility where Safu is. They and the others who survived and surrendered may soon wish they’d been killed back in town, from the looks of it.
Just in case you didn’t know: No. 6 is a bad, bad place run by bad, bad people. They massacre people outside the walls, scoop up whoever survived, then dump them into a big black void like garbagemen dumping trash into a landfill. It’s bleak, and it’s a scale of evil we haven’t yet seen, but here it is, with Nezumi and Shion right in the middle of it. I’d ask how they’re going to survive what seemed like a fall of, conservatively, several hundred feet, but oh well.
Between Rikiga’s side job as a pimp, dogkeeper’s ambiguous gender, Shion’s “serious” dreams for the perfect happy ending we know we’re not going to get, Safu waking up and attacking the lab techs, and the aforementioned dumping into a big cubist prison, it would seem like the buildup is just about complete. Which is good, because there are only two episodes left to wrap up all this loveliness. Oh yeah, Nezumi also sings, but I felt like it would have been more impactful without the reverb and accompaniment.
Rin and Kouki’s first week of first grade is heralded by a typhoon. Daikichi confers with other married dads at work. It sounds more complicated – and it is – but it looks like the benefits outweigh the costs. When Hitani and Kouki stay for dinner, we get a ‘what if they were one big family’ scenario. The kids get along so well, as do the parents. Things seem so much easier than two people raising their kids alone…
Usagi Drops another lovely, truly heartwarming episode on us. I have to say, Daikichi should thank his lucky stars he has Rin and not Kouki as a kid. Rin is well-behaved and wise beyond her years, but Kouki is…just a typical bratty kid. He’s always loud and dirty, has to be the center of attention, and doesn’t take direction well. But Rin’s effect on (power over?) him astounds not only his teachers, but his mom too.
This episode does a good job balancing the experiences and points-of-view of the kids and the parents, and all of their interactions together were positive. Daikichi starts to get the feeling that yeah, asking Hitani out could work. All that’s really in the way is their inability to actually test that theory, which is obviously a step requiring great courage. I almost thought he was going to ask Kouki “How would you feel if Hitani and I…” but his actual question was far vaguer. Ganbatte, Daikichi!
Part II of “Hangin’ With the Blanches.” Yune has tea ceremony with Alice while Claude reminisces about his past with Camille. The two were good friends despite the difference in status, but whenever Claude wanted to take her out to explore the city, she’d refuse and get all huffy. It turns out her family only let her hang out with him if she didn’t leave the house. That, combined with the fact they’d never be able to marry, makes for uneasiness on both sides in the present.
I didn’t really get the last couple episodes. Sure Yune has fun with Alice, but Claude has just sitting in a dark room for two episodes, and nothing was ever resolved between him and Camille. True enough, it may never be resolved, but his flashbacks with her felt repetitive. We get it; she’s rich, he’s not-so-rich; it could never be. But she still wanted to be friends with him, and I guess it didn’t turn out that way? What of it? What does that have to do with crossroads in a foreign labyrinth?
Camille is more interesting than Alice, but I fear we’ve seen too much of her. At the end of the day she’s just an angsty aristocrat who tacitly complains about her “plight” while doing absolutely nothing to change it. She’s been stuck in a stuffy mansion her whole life and hasn’t experienced anything new or real. She just pouts like a Persian cat. Bring Yune back into the spotlight. She’s everything Camille isn’t.
Moyako arrives in Tokyo, tagging along with Koushiro and Kirio, and hangs out with Kyohei, Utao and Hibino. The next college term is starting up, and Kyohei reflects on leaving the village. Aki remains at large, but is actually crashing at Kuuko Karahari’s house. Her dad the detective is snooping around everywhere, and she herself has discovered Kurakami village. Finally, a new character is introduced – Mahiru, who instantly attaches herself to “Kyohei-sama”.
Not a ton of earth-shattering stuff this week nor any action at all (save a brief flashback) but still a very solid episode all-in-all, full of great character interactions. Kyohei struggling with his worth and his feelings for Hibino, Utao nervous about Karahiri, Kuuko teasing Aki, Kirio making nice with Utao – good stuff, all. Mahiru (finally revealed in the ending sequence as the shadowy figure) looks to add an interesting dynamic. Also on full display was the series’ attention to setting detail – the stonework on the ground at the West Shinjuku station promenade and the park next to city hall were great to revisit in anime form.
Considering this is Tokyo, I’m not that surprised the growing group of sekis can’t locate Aki, though it might do them some good to pay another visit to Kuuko’s, if he goes back there. She’s an interesting wild card. For his part, Aki is sick of the person he’s become, and believes the only way out is to utterly destroy Kurakami village, thus avenging his lover and his beloved pet. That’s a big task, but he does have a kakashi and gobs of angst – I have no doubt he can get it done if no one stops him. Kyohei won’t be able to stay on the sidelines if and when Aki tries something.
The pages’ battle with the mid-level demons last week wasn’t just a team-building exercise, it was also the Esquire’s exam, and everyone passed. But something isn’t sitting well with Yukio; he felt Neuhaus was going too far attacking Rin. Neuhaus rebuts: Mephisto ordered him to try to kill him, ‘try’ being the operative word. However, it turns out Neuhaus is one of what will likely be many gunning for Rin; he has a vendetta against all demons, and the fight was personal, not professional.
As per usual, the animation and combat in this series is consistent and seriously decent, as Yukio is forced to confront Neuhaus and gets in over his head, leading Rin to come and save him with his sword of blue flames. This isn’t anything new; Yukio reminisces earlier about how he was a crybaby as a kid and Rin looked out for him. He wouldn’t be the exorcist his is without Rin. Shiemi has known Yuki since they were thirteen, and she always admired him, and she isn’t surprised that Rin, who has been very kind to her, had a hand in Yukio’s forming…though he still doesn’t know how to talk to girls.
Shiemi arrives a bit to late to help the brothers in their battle with Neuhaus, but heals Rin (even though he doesn’t need healing) and vows to become an Exorcist – a tamer, specifically – so she can stand beside and protect them. While she may look like your typical damsel-in-distress, Shiemi is quickly turning into anything but; everyone would have been in serious trouble without her contribution last week. The question is, as she is drawing closer to Rin, when will she learn the truth about him, and how will she react? Rating: 3.5
[C] finally makes its apearance as a menacing force of nature that devolves whatever civilization it comes into contact with. We saw a glimpse of this when the Tokyo skyline shrunk, but this week it happened all over East Asia; Singapore was totally wiped out and Shanghai became a shadow of its former self. Mikuni, backed by his guild, makes a deal with the devil (Masakaki) to secure funds to stage a last-minute buy that saves Japan from utter ruin, but at a humongous price. The GDP, economy, and infrastructure devolve more than a decade (this is obviously a reference to the real-life “lost decade”, birth rates plummet, and Tokyo is steeped in poverty and squalor.
This was another “jumper” like episode three in its first half, going back and forth through the timeline, unfolding how Mikuni managed to do what he did. But it was only a band-aid, and Yoga doesn’t believe it was worth it. Satou agrees, and they both agree to work to restore the future they had lost. Enter Mashyu: Yoga learns from Mr. Goldteeth that his father had an asset called Mua that looked just like Mashyu. He changed his tune about his father, who clearly had far nobler designs than he initially thought. Similarly, Yoga gets the idea that Mashyu was meant to be his own daughter, but joining Midas meant selling her for collateral. Assets are lost dreams personified.
As much as Mashyu has grown, she is still only an asset. Yoga wants her to be a real girl, and he wants everyone still in his life to have their futures repaired. This includes a Hanabi and a store manager who have totally given up. Indeed, the whole country has, which is why no one is being born. He can’t accept this Japan, and he won’t let it stay that way. They tried it Mikuni’s way, now it’s time for him to spring into action. No more sitting on the sidelines, no more soul-searching. Only…what are they going to do? Rating: 4
Yukiatsu and other doubters can no longer deny it: Menma is there, and only Jinta can see and hear her. She can write to them, but only on certain things (her diary, and the planks of the secret base, for instance.) This is initially a great relief for Jinta, and Menma has never been more cheerful. But when the plan to launch fireworks and send Menma to heaven are revived (thanks in part to Yukiatsu’s groveling), Jinta has to consider whether he actually wants her to leave.
The group is finally being open with each other about their feelings, but the people they want to hear them most…aren’t. Anaru likes Jintan, but he doesn’t notice her because of Menma. Yukiatsu likes Menma, but can’t see or hear her. Tsuruko likes Yukiatsu, but at the same time is disgusted by his Menma complex. Even Poppo hints that he had a crush on Menma. Apparently uninterested in Tsuruko, but now conceding he will never reach Menma, Yukiatsu reaches out to Anaru.
There are so many great, complex, weird relationships in AnoHana that I’m loath to pick favorites, but if I had to, I’d probably pick Yukiatsu and Anaru right now, the “kindred spirits” who are both tormented by unrequited love for people physically right next to them. They also seem to have evolved the most in the course of the series. As sweet as it is for Jintan to finally be acknowledging how much he loved Menma, never wanting her to go is moving backwards.
Right now he still has Anaru, a living, breathing friend who loves him. But if he continues to let the past (literally) haunt him, Anaru and everyone else may pass him by…again. At the same time, I wonder if Yukiatsu is offering Anaru a false choice by going out with him – will he ever be over Menma? Will she ever be over Jintan? Poppo’s hesitation to ask Menma anything serious is also intriguing, as well as Tsuruko discovering (or at least confirming) Yukiatsu’s manner with Anaru. Hard to believe it’s only been nine episodes. Rating: 4
Jun Nagase: twenty-one years old; pro-wrestling fan; student teacher. She lives her life by the ideals of Jumbo Tsuruma: life is full of challenges; face them with everything you’ve got. Nagase is extremely stoked and confident about being the best damn teacher she can be. The male students salivate over her. The female students admire her. But there’s one student who she instantly identifies as a problem child: Keima Katsuragi. Keima is her project. And when she’s suddenly infected with a loose soul, she becomes his, much to his dismay.
Keima knows teachers from dating sims. They’re the toughest, most time-consuming conquests, due to the inherent problems with the student-teacher relationship. Clawing one’s way onto equal footing is not easy, and that’s just the first step; after becoming legitimate friends, he must take it a step further to love. As long as he stays away from Nagase, he can reach that equal footing sooner. But being her project, she gets right in his face and makes the first move. For the first time in a while, Keima is genuinely flustered.
This episode would make no sense whatsoever to a God Only Knows noob, because they’d assume everything Nagase assumes about Keima. She has no idea what his philosophy or M.O. is, and so formulates her own: he’s a shy, bored, troubled youth who needs her help. She even manages to reveal something in common between them: she loves pro-wrestling more than MMA because she values ideals over reality, just as he does. Aki Toyosaki brings a surefooted, bubbly exuberance to the role without coming off as annoying. With both participants on missions to reform/court the other, this should make for a most interesting final conquest. Rating: 4
By gum, that was a fan-bloody-tastic episode of Sket Dance, which embodies everything that works with the series, and has a little bit of everything. A mangaka named Hinohara Enta visits the Sket-Dan looking for ideas. Initially, it becomes a critique of Bossun’s merits of leadership (or lack thereof). When Enta leaves, Bossun drinks a soda that’s actually a potion that makes his body three years old. Hilarity ensues.
And by hilarity, I mean virtually non-stop laughs. Both Himeko and Switch take on the roles of doting parents, annoying Bossun to no end. Paritcularly Himeko’s manic maternal energy is a sight to see, as is Switch’s creepy, bawdy “dad”. Then they bump into pretty much every character they’ve interacted with, and he wins over everyone (save one student council member who scolds him for not getting permission to shrink). As Enta notes, the school is a “garden of characters”, and a lush one, as they’re all so dramatically different and neurotic in their own ways.
But what made this episode truly genius is that it forgets nothing from this or any previous episodes and doesn’t treat the manga or shrinking story as throwaways, but brings everything to a rousing conclusion, complete with a tight little bow. Bossun, returned to normal, and the Sket-dan prove their worth, leaping straight into action when Enta’s bag is snatched (the original mission Bossun wanted to take on in the beginning), which completes a tale Enta draws a manga for. It’s a good one from where we’re standing, but in the very end, it turns out Enta wrote about everyone but Sket-dan…
In any case, this was a surprisingly complex web of little moments and stories all mixed together and played back at seemingly 1.5 times the speed of the average anime. There are tons of painterly, nicely-textured stills and really diverse and interesting animation throughout. It was hilarious and very well-done, I daresay Sket-dan’s finest moment yet. If there’s a second season that can maintain this level of quality comedy, I shall watch. Rating: 4
The longest day at Kissuiso continues with Ohana in a labyrinthene exhibition hall, looking for Tohru. Her search initially proves both fruitless and disruptive, and she retreats to a lonely staircase. Just then, Ko calls her, and tells her exactly what she needs to hear. She and Ko are never quite on the same wavelength, which is a factor of Ko not making it clear what he’s doing and why. If he likes her, and wants to see her, he should just tell her and meet up with her. Instead, he’s intent on keeping crucial information from Ohana, and as a result, he is never able to see her.
I prefer this, his decision to withhold his intentions, to dumb luck and coincidence keeping them apart. Ohana is extremely busy and extremely ditzy; Ko should know this, and spell everything out as clearly as possible. It’s disappointing that he isn’t able to get the words out in the precious few moments on the phone with her, but the fact he’s able to cheer her up at just the right time doesn’t quite seem like enough for either of them. These two are stuck in a long-distance holding pattern, which is a shame, but there’s plenty of episodes to resolve (or not resolve) this.
Meanwhile, the highly-charged energy and kinesis of Kissuiso continues. Ohana’s instincts prove correct, as when she brings Tohru back, the situation matures from barely-contained fiasco it was to a more controlled scenario where everything that needs to be done will get done. She also proves correct in insisting every guest be treated with equal care, as the mystery guests turn out to be different from the ones the consultant lady assumed. The manager returns to a reinvigorated Kissuiso, that can run smoothly in her absense and gained new pride in their teamwork and the service they provide. That should prove a great comfort and great worry to the aging manager. Rating: 4