How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 07 – Meat on the Brain

With the gym closed, the girls decide to take Gina out for a welcome party. Hibiki recommends her brother’s yakiniku (BBQ) restaurant where she works part time. As they chow down, Machio and Satomi hover between them and us, explaining that while beef is a good source of protein for bodybuilders, the cut of meat and even its source determines how much you should eat.

When there’s a slowdown in work, Hibiki takes a load off and tucks into a multi-thousand-calorie meal. Gina believes this is Hibiki’s secret to, among other things, beating her at arm-wrestling: the same ability to consume huge amounts of muscle-building protein as a pro wrestler, only she enjoys doing so! Of course, it’s just Hibiki’s “cheat day,” but she won’t be able to slack off on the other days.

When the others ask why Hibiki has to work five days a week in addition to school and the gym, she says it’s to pay her monthly membership fees and for all the food she eats. Akemi informs her that thanks to her older sister, chairman of the board of their school, gym fees and other training-related expenses are covered by the school! That said, Hibiki still needs to pay for her own food.

While sitting in class and half-paying attention, Gina notices that Satomi has a beauty mark beneath her eye that she’s sure she’s seen before. Sure enough, a quick check of her phone confirms that Satomi is “Yulia Riko”, cosplay sensation. When she tells Satomi that she knows, Satomi assumes Gina wants something in exchange for her silence, as, in Gina’s words, she’s “suspicious of altruism.”

So Gina comes up with a worthy payment: she gets to spend the day with Satomi/Yulia, including a one-on-one photoshoot and sightseeing tour. When Satomi complains of soreness after a nice workout, Gina introduces her to the concept of active rest, which actually helps you recover from fatigue faster than the passive kind (i.e. sitting on your bum and swilling beer). It’s all about aiding circulation of blood (and thus oxygen) throughout the body.

Their active rest for the day takes the form of a brisk but comfortable jog that isn’t overdoing it and enables them to carry on a conversation, all the way to Akihabara. When Satomi hilariously asks the tourist if she’s going there to buy electronics, Gina responds that due to her love of all things Japanese (and a few things that aren’t like Hong Kong and yoga), she’s determined to become an idol…and she’s taking Satomi and her new friends along for the ride.

The public idol audition they end up competing in is judged by a director voiced by Yoshino Hiroyuki (nice cameo!) who is tired of normal-looking girls with a normal level of talent performing normally. That is, until the bikini-clad “Muscle Girls” arrive on stage, riding on the shoulders their burlier fellow gym members. All of a sudden, things are a bit too abnormal for the director…with emphasis on the ab!

Rather than sing, Gina and Ayaka deliver an impressive sparring demonstration, while Hibiki does bench presses with Akemi spotting. Their final act is Satomi, hiding her face behind a kendo mask, performing a perfect deadlift, the toughest and riskiest of the three major barbell exercises.

Despite enthusiastic applause by the crowd, they fail to make the cut…partially because they didn’t sing anything, but also because they were just way too weird. Normal, the director concludes, is fine after all. Too bad; I would have loved to see these guys on tour!

Akiba’s Trip The Animation – 03

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Well, I wasn’t expecting that – an episode of Akiba’s Trip outscoring a KonoSuba. Where this week’s Kono felt listless and scraping the barrel, Akiba’s Trip had a manic energy to it (along with an idol group called Manias) as it ditched the bugged ones story for a straight-up exploration of various kinds of obsessions, which can all to easily be taken up to 11 in a place like Akiba.

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It starts, innocently enough, with Tamotsu catching a moment of an idol concert Nikawa is watching, and like a diamond arrow, sends him into the soaring space of fandom. His obsession with the idol (who just comically phones it in) in all possible media frustrates Mayo, whose patrol plans with Tamotsu are completely overrun by his various idol-worshipping activities. That, in turn, leads Mayo to stress eat over at Carl’s Jr. (tacky product placement FTL).

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At some point, Tamotsu’s obsession shifts from merely consuming idoltry to really getting down into the nitty-gritty of audio, maxing out his GonzoCard many times over with impulsive purchases of increasingly dubious equipment, only to literally bowl his roommates over with his very expensive realization that it’s better just to hear the idol in person.

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Then things shift to the girls, who get swept up by a famous former-idol, now super/hyper/mega-whatever producer who calls the trio MANIAS and books them for numerous photo shoots in increasingly revealing outfits and increasingly lecherous photographers.

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Eventually, things get so bad Arisa is being casually asked to lie in bed and take off her top, but when Mayo and Nikawa hold her back, the producer and photographer reveal their true selves as Bugged Ones. Just like that, the episode snaps back into what the show is about, having itself gotten swept up in the stories of its characters getting obsessed with things.

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Arisa and Mayo fight the Bugged Ones, and Tamotsu joins in since he started taking every possible part-time or temp job he can to pay his debts, the constant cycle of odd jobs becoming its own obsession. Being the producer’s part-time janitor pays off, as he’s able to save his sister.

The recovered famous producer then quickly hooks up the trio for a little idol concert event that looks the business (and is sung by the three lead seiyuu, performing as “Headphones”, their group from Sore ga Seiyuu). 

They only perform in front of a handful of people, but that’s fine with Mayo, who seems to like the attention she gets from Tamotsu, who ends up with a new idol group to, well, idolize. Will all of this be forgotten next week? Probably. Was it still not just fun, but a shitload of fun? Absolutely.

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Akiba’s Trip The Animation – 02

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This week Tomatsu gets oriented in his new role as Mayo’s underling, and his new, more powerful form as an elite hazoku. He comes up with the name “Electric Mayonnaise & Friends”, the first friend being Arisa, who is game for some bugged one-hunting.

Their target this week is a disgruntled replica gun and military supply store manager-turned-hazoku, who reminded me of Orange from the old run-and-gun game Gunstar Heroes. He has ammo that can tear clothes away, which turns out to be just as bad for Tamotsu and Mayo as the bad guys, since they’re the same basic entities (albeit with opposing ideals).

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The fact that a defeated Hazoku doesn’t return to being a normal human, but simply evaporates, is revealed to Tamotsu after Orange is brought down, creating new, fresh stakes for him. Arisa isn’t a Hazoku, just really really strong; I wonder if there’s more to her than meets the eye (even though she reveals quite a bit throughout the episode).

Akiba’s Trip continues to be inoffensively competent and reasonably fun. But KonoSuba is a tough act to follow, exposing this show’s lack of narrative depth. That being said, the characters have distinct (if broad) personalities and good chemistry, so I find myself looking forward to the next leg in Akiba’s Trip.

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Akiba’s Trip The Animation – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Jist: Otaku Denkigai Tomatsu is enjoying the day in Ahikabara with his little sister Niwaka when they find themselves in the middle of a battle between mysterious, evil “Bugged Ones” (AKA “synthesizers”), ordinary people taken over by shadows and given superhuman strength. They are beaten back by the bat-weilding redhead Mayoka Matome, who Tomatsu saves and who saves his by cloning her powers on to him with a kiss.

With his new strength he’s able to disrobe all the affected humans, dissipating the Bugged Ones. He then looks forward to continuing the battle beside “Mayo.” He also meets Ahokainen Arisa, a cosplaying otaku kindred spirit who has superhuman strength but isn’t a Bugged One.

You Should Watch This if you are up for a simple, straightforward, shall we say…dumb action/adventure romp set in Akiba with a healthy portion of ecchi, what with the rather silly undressing aspect of defeating the (very vague) evil enemy. The violence is actually pretty precise, with each punch, kick, leap and stab carrying the right impact. It’s a colorful show with inoffensive music and decent voice work.

You Shouldn’t Watch This if you’re looking for anything deep or innovative, or if watching a guy (and a girl, for that matter) undress lots of women (though the Gonzo logo on one girl’s panties was an interesting easter egg). And while clean, the animation is also very simple and embellished, and while he seems brave and selfless and there’s nothing particularly hateworthy about him, Tomatsu is an extremely derivative, meh otaku whose running commentary wears thin.

The Verdict: I’m on the fence, personally. That may change once I’ve watched the remaining Winter shows on my list. I always give Gonzo joints a try, as there are so few of them and I root for their success. I hew more towards “clean” than “lazy” on the animation side. On the other hand, this has the look of a paint-by-numbers show with (so far) yawn-worthy ecchi thrills. The combat action isn’t bad, and I found Arisa surprisingly funny, so I’ll go another week. But I can’t recommend it yet.

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Denpa Kyoushi – 03

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Kagami’s voluntary dismissal from school seemingly ended the “weekly student project” format I had become comfortable with and fond for, and all for reasons that didn’t do Kagami any favors in the likability department.

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Still, like me, Hiiragi Koyomi (later nicknamed “Options” by Kagami because she herself says she’s loaded with them) has enjoyed watching Kagami improve the lives of his students with amusing methods, and wants to see more of that at her school.

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Only Kagami doesn’t want to teach, so Hiiragi formulates an elaborate military operation, using all of the resources and connections at her disposal to track him down. I think the overarching joke is that Kagami isn’t really on the run, but just has a very busy schedule of YD activities in Akiba.

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I’ll be honest, I didn’t dig the whole chase sequence. I’ve seen super-rich people put on much better shows than Hiiragi did here, and the show’s animation bordered on the putrid this week, and really didn’t do Akiba justice. Hiiragi’s minions also seemed particularly incompetent, and I wasn’t buying Kagami’s hacking prowess.

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Am I being overly pedantic with a show not intending to be that serious? Perhaps; especially when the chase ends with Suzune literally throwing a big net over Kagami and then tossing him in a burlap sack. Still, it’s good to see Kagami brought back down to earth by his little sister (who knew he liked a certain voice actress) after he was able to defeat the might of Hiiragi family, Jack Bauer-style.

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Hiiragi brings Kagami to his sister’s school, Icho, where he’ll teach first before moving up to Hiiragi. But even if its the poorer of the two schools, it’s still pretty fancy. There, Kagami meets Hiiragi’s No. 2, the mirthless twin-tail he quickly nicknames “Irregular Twintails.” Momozono resents Hiiragi recruiting this NEET “thing” just to make things more “amusing.”

Kagami can absorb Twintails’ barbs, but when she turns her ire on Shikishima Kiriko, a student being expelled for having a part time job at a maid cafe, the situation suddenly becomes YD for Kagami. He agree to take the job if Shikishima is reinstated, and vows to teach Momozono about the dignity of maid cafes. And jut like that, we seem to be back in the “weekly student project” format I didn’t mind. Denpa Kyoushi can keep its chase scenes.

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Steins Gate – 17

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Hmmm…Well, that didn’t work. At least not all the way.

Steins;Gate may twist time into knots, but it never wastes it, snatching away Okarin’s (and my) sweet relief that Mayushii is safe in the first thirty seconds. Okarin stopping his past self from stopping Suzuha from going back to the 70s before the storm damaged her time machine (whew) only delayed Mayushii’s death a little; it didn’t prevent it. For that, he’s going to have to get that divergence number closer to 1.0. Much closer.

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So it’s back to the drawing board for Okarin. Thankfully, he has the adorable genius Kurisu on hand to help him decide what to draw up next. She theorizes that because sending one D-mail to cancel another made incremental progress, cancelling other D-mails that ended up changing the past will lead to further progress.

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It’s a good theory, but undoing D-mails will have a profound interpersonal cost on the lab members, touched on when Kurisu laments she won’t remember Okarin calling her Kurisu (not remembering the first time he did it). But that kind of change is peanuts compared to The last D-mail Okarin undid, which caused Suzuha to never meet her father. The next D-mail he has to undo is the Feyris sent; the one that somehow prevented Akiba from becoming an Otaku Mecca.

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That “somehow” is key, because Okarin can’t change anything if he doesn’t know what Feyris actually did. When he tracks her down, she’s slightly occupied; on the run from a gang of over-zealous Rai-Net Battler gamers sore over her beating them at a tournament. If Okarin wants to talk to her, he’s going to have to keep up.

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The difficulty of prying the truth from the frazzled Feyris is aggravated by his talk with her being constantly interrupted by bursts of chasing, but Okarin eventually able to get her attention by mentioning “May Queen”, the name of her cafe that never was, and a name no one but her should know.

Okarin goes so far as to bring Feyris to the site where her cafe was (or should be), and something very unsettling and haunting occurs: the area briefly shifts back and forth between its current abandoned state and the May Queen, causing Feyris to nearly faint. Even before this happens, the atmosphere is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

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This is a phenomenon I don’t believe we’ve seen before, and I think it has something to do with the effect of Okarin’s Reading Steiner “leaking”; making those he’s in close contact with remember along with him, at least to a degree. I’m interested to see how far this “leaking” goes and if it’s permanent or merely fleeting.

When Okarin tells Feyris that Mayushii’s life is in danger, Feyris is, surprisingly, still hesitant to cooperate, but she turns out to have a very good reason: she sent that D-mail to save the life of her father, who died ten years ago in the original world line.

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This explains why he so suddenly appeared in her apartment after she sent the D-mail, and fully re-inserts Feyris, whose D-mail had far-reaching effects on the timeline but who had been largely sidelined since episode 9, right back into the thick of things, showing just how deep a bench this show has. It also introduces the unenviable but  inevitable choice of saving one person’s life at the cost of another but not being able to save both.

But before they can determine how to proceed, the crazed Rai-Netters corner them, and we get a tense, stark scene in which they beat Okarin bloody and prepare to take Feyris away to their deranged leader for God-knows-what manner of unpleasantness.

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Even in his beaten-down state, Okarin is able to stall the thugs long enough for help to arrive in the most unexpected form imaginable: Feyris’ dad’s chauffeur squeezes his S-Class limo through the alley and scares off the thugs.

Call it a deus (or patrem?) ex machina if you must—it was quite a strange sequence of events—but the fact the thugs’ boss on the other end of the phone is promptly arrested suggests a coordinated, quick-response security system is in place to protect Feyris, a system necessitated by the fact she’s a celebrity in her own right, but also the daughter of a rich and powerful man and thus a target for kidnapping.

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But even with such a system, Feyris would have been in big trouble had Okarin not been there to delay them. That isn’t lost on Feyris or her dad, who agree to tell Okarin what became of the IBN 5100 he used to own, in a very slick segue. Ten years ago, while preparing to board his flight for work ten years ago, her dad received a text that his daughter had been kidnapped, and as he was not as wealthy back then, had to sell his IBN in order to afford her ransom.

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This talk is followed by Feyris paying Okarin a visit in the guest room where he’s resting after a day of running and being beaten up. Okarin has had many exquisitely tender, moving scenes with Kurisu, Mayushii, and Suzuha; now it’s Feyris’ turn…or I should say, Akiha Rumiho’s turn.

She drops their usual chuuni code and nicknames in order to thank him properly, and to tell him everything she couldn’t say in front of her father, in one of the most sharply written and powerfully-acted scenes of the series thus far. Not bad for a character we’ve barely seen for eight episodes, but always liked. Considerable props to Miyano Mamoru and Momoi Haruko.

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Ten years ago, Rumiho was so angry and bitter at her dad for going on his trip, she told him she hated him before he left. That was the last time she ever saw him, as he was killed in a plane crash. When Okarin let her send a D-mail, she sent the false kidnapping message, which kept her dad off that flight and brought him home by train, which led to the current world line. It was a selfish choice, but a perfectly understandable one. If the means to save a dead loved one you didn’t part ways with amicably was in the palm of your hand, who wouldn’t make that choice?

Now that she knows that D-mail may well have sealed Mayushii’s doom, she voices her willingness to send a D-mail undoing it. When asked if she’s “sure about this”, she answers honestly: not at all. But now she can see both the world as it is and as it was, and she is sure of one thing: her father loved her dearly as she loved him, and nothing she said or did would change that fact. Having her father back was a “beautiful dream”, but it isn’t something she’s willing to continue at the cost of Mayushii’s life. Her father died on that plane. He was supposed to die. Now she’s at peace with that. Mostly.

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But more than that, after what her “Prince” Okarin went through to protect her, she feels compelled to return the favor by helping him. She’s always admired and idolized Okarin (ironic as she herself is an idol to many others), but here that admiration takes a turn for the romantic. Calling him her prince, I half-expected her to steal a kiss, but she settles for a behind-the-back hug and permission to cry. It’s just beautiful all around.

Now Okarin finds himself in a situation with Feyris similar to the one with Kurisu: anytime he has these wonderful, powerful moments with either, he travels back in time and everything is lost. Here, Feyris hopes she’ll remember the experiences and words they shared. Okarin tells her she almost certainly will remember, but he expresses far more confidence than he actually has on that front.

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Once Feyris sends her father a D-mail telling him the kidnapping was just a joke, the past changes again. Okarin finds himself in the lab, and Feyris comes up behind him. When he puts his hands on her shoulders, ready to ask if she remembers anything, both Kurisu and Mayushii remark that he’s being awfully lovey-dovey with their friend.

I interpreted Feyris’ response to them — about her and Okarin fighting side by side as lovers in a past life — no less than three different ways. One: She remembers nothing, and is merely talking in their usual chuuni code, which she often uses to express her fondness for Okarin and only coincidentally describes their past dealings. Two: She remembers something, but the memories have to be triggered, as Okarin triggered her memory of the maid cafe before. Three: She remembers everything, and is telling Kurisu and Mayushii the truth.

I’m sorta leaning towards door number two. But whatever the case, Akihabara has returned to its proper state, Rumiho’s father is dead, yet the whereabouts of the 5100 remain unknown. This was still only one step on a very long stair. But it was a fantastic one.

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Steins Gate – 09

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Holy crap…now he’s gone and done it.

This masterful episode, in which Okarin makes the ill-fated choice to allow Feyris to send a D-mail to the past, confirmed some of my floating theories, refuted others, and generally blew my mind. I had to stop myself from rewatching this episode immediately after watching it.

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No review of this episode is complete without thorough discussion of Okarin and Kurisu. To put it mildly, they were on their A-game here; to put it more elaborately, this was some of the most entertaining sustained interaction between two characters within a single episode of anime I have ever seen.

It all starts when Okarin happens to encounter Kurisu on the roof in the midst of an upsetting phone call. She retreats, but later tries to convince Okarin that she wasn’t really crying, even though her eyes are still red.

Yet she still sits beside him, as if to give him a chance to comfort her. He does, sort of, in a very Okarin way: first with the affirmation that she’s a ‘valued ally’, and if she wants talk he’ll listen…then pretend-talking on the phone about his kindness being some kind of ruse. We’ll give this round to Okarin.

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At the next round table, Kurisu and Okarin pretend their last encounter never happened as far as anyone else is concerned (and anyway Daru is distracted by Mayushii’s real school uniform, which he insists is a super-realistic school uniform cosplay).  Kurisu even has a nickname lined up for Okarin when he asks why physical time travel is impossible: “gel-Okarin”. Score a point for Kurisu.

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When Kurisu suggests the lab stick to more realistic goals, Okarin dismisses that stuff as “boring”. Kurisu, points out that science is 99.9% boring. It has to be that way; otherwise it’s 100% exciting, as in BOOM. Okarin reminds her he’s a MAD scientist, which she responds to by turning away and saying “Epic Fail”, which everyone has a strange reaction that puts her on the spot. Okarin goes in for the kill by repeatedly calling her “4channer” in the most obnoxious tone he can muster, thus gaining the upper hand.

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After that exchange, Mayushii gives Kuri…a look. I’m not sure if it’s a look of support, solidarity, pity, jealousy (she confided in Feyris earlier that she’s scared of Okarin “leaving her”), or some combination of those, but I really enjoyed this wordless exchange.

I was so focused on these two, in fact, that I wasn’t paying attention to what Okarin and Daru were discussing. Okarin talks about the IBN 5100 as if they had it…but it turns out they don’t have it; he and Kurisu never found it and carried it to the lab.

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It’s the clearest example yet of the butterfly effect, in which even minor changes to the past can cause major changes to the future. My tentative theory about the changes being cumulative is history, but I won’t miss it. The butterfly thing means higher stakes. There is no ‘minor stuff’ when it comes to changing the past.

Okarin quickly calls Ruka—who appears to be an actual girl now, judging from the uniform—who says the 5100 was donated to the shrine, but now it’s gone. Okarin goes over who else was involved in procuring the PC, and decides talking to Feyris is the next step.

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On the way there, Mayushii admires a metal upa figurine in the window of one of Akiba’s many collectible stores. Okarin, remembering how she got one from a gumball machine and promptly lost it, asks if she “still” wants one, but Mayushii doesn’t remember, because those events were many world line splits ago.

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He also hears a docile voice say “IBN 5100”, and spots Moeka across the street, and finally catches up to her in a dark alley. She seems more desperate than ever to find the 5100, but Okarin can’t help her now. More surprising to him, Mayushii knows Moeka now, as she’d visited the lab at some point, meaning the last D-mail restored relationships that were lost in the D-mail before it.

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Do sooner does Okarin’s enthusiasm begin to strain beneath the increasing weight and complexity of his plight than he arrives at Feyris’s urban palace high above Akiba, where the view of the “ants” below him provides some comfort. Feyris, whose real name is Akiha Rumiho, explains her monumental wealth to Okarin and Daru by revealing that her family is the “Akiha” in Akihabara, and that she claims to have been personally instrumental bringing the “culture of cute” to the district.

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Before she tells Okarin about the IBN, she requests that she be able to send a D-mail to the past. The timing is particularly bad, but Okarin grudgingly agrees, naming Rumiho Member #008.

However, in order to activate the phone microwave from there, Okarin must call Kurisu. He also quickly learns that she’ll keep hanging up on him unless he phrases his request in a manner to her liking. That we only hear and don’t see Kurisu during this exchange makes their performance—and her stunning come-from-behind victory—all the more fantastic.

I thought there was something fishy about Feyris’ replied to being asked what one thing she’d change from her past”. She said she doesn’t look back on her past, but clearly, in this case, she does.

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Flanked by the loyal and smitten Daru on one side and Feyris’ friend and co-worker Mayushii on the other, Okarin is forced into a very risky proposition: sending a D-mail without even knowing its contents.

Once it’s sent, Feyris’ dad arrives, and tells Okarin he never donated his 5100 to the shrine. But nothing can prepare him for the most dramatic change since Kurisu’s stabbing: the slow, devastating reveal that Akiba…isn’t Akiba anymore, as in, it’s no longer a vibrant center for otaku or culture and shopping. No comic stores, no maid cafes…nothing.

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Was this an unintended, unfortunate circumstance of Feyris’ secret D-mail…or did she intend for this to happen, perhaps secretly disillusioned with what Akiba had become? As they always seem to be with this show, the possibilities are endless. Good lord…how did people actually wait a week in between these episodes?

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Stray Observations:

  • I wonder who Kurisu was talking to…
  • So Ruka is a girl now…right? Wait…don’t answer that. I’ll find out.
  • Daru borrows Okarin’s “Steins Gate” line when referring to limited edition merch, upsetting him.
  • Moeka mentions an “FB” again.
  • Mayushii sees a cosplayer in everyone
  • “What a sad attempt to escape reality.” – Okarin’s highly hypocritical reaction to Daru covering his ears when Feyris’ real name is mentioned.
  • Feyris: “Do they not like each other?” Mayushii: “I think it’s the opposite.” Daru: “Agreed.” Well said, all.