Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 03 – A Little Bit More Good than Evil

All of the various knots Boogiepop tied the first two eps are laid bare this week and then gradually unraveled, bringing the three-part arc to a satisfying conclusion. It starts with Tanaka Shirou searching for his girlfriend Kamikishiro, unaware she’s already dead. Class Rep Niitoki Kei joins him in the search, as does Saotome Masami.

Of course, we know Saotome is up to no good, and his true goal is to draw out both Echoes and Kirima Nagi. And his plan works…kinda: when they send a PA message summoning Nagi to the broadcast room, she shoes up, but not before cutting the lights, taking all three of them down, and tying them up before presenting them to Echoes to determine if any of them are Manticore.

When Nagi frees the three, Kei wants to know what’s going on, but Nagi doesn’t want to involve them, as they’re “too normal” for what they’re up against. This rankles Saotome, still sore over Nagi rejecting him for the same reason. He reveals his treachery by stabbing Echoes with a pen loaded with poison that will keep him from regenerating, just when Manticore arrives.

He also slits Nagi’s throat, an event that was a horrifying to behold in the moment, even if I knew there were supernatural means of bringing her back. Echoes escapes to the roof with Nagi, and Manticore follows, while Tanaka runs away screaming, leaving Kei alone with Saotome, who liked how it felt killing Nagi and wouldn’t mind doing it again.

Echoes and Manticore engage in a kind of aerial parkour duel, the animation for which is crude, but effective. Manticore eventually bests Echoes, slamming him to the ground where Saotome and Kei are. This is where Manticore explains all the horrible things she’s going to do, including taking Nagi’s form and turning Kei into a soulless slave.

But as Kei holds him upright, Echoes has other ideas. He transforms himself into data and shoots himself into space. Saotome pushes Manticore out of the way, but gets vaporized himself. Denied her prey Manticore starts to go a bit loopy, and prepares to kill Kei in her rage, but her hand is stayed—nay, her whole left arm cleaved off—by none other than Boogiepop, who has come to the rescue.

After suspending Manticore with magical threads, Tanaka makes a triumphant return, shooting an arrow through Manticore’s head, killing her and ending the threat. Turns out his act of cowardice was just that—an act; Boogiepop told him earlier that the opportunity to “shoot through the truth” would come if he wished to…and he decided to do so. In this case, to avenge his beloved and defeat the demon that claimed her.

Turns out in his brief time with the bloodied Nagi, Echoes gave her a little of his life force, allowing her to heal with no ill effects (which is why Manticore thought he was a bit too weak, even with the poison). Tanaka thanks Nagi and Kei for their help on Kamikishiro’s behalf. Boogiepop further explains that Echoes was sent to judge whether humanity was worth living; thanks to Kamikishiro, with assists by Tanaka, Nagi, and Kei, the verdict was favorable.

Kei also wants to thank Boogiepop, but with the threat lifted, Boogiepop is gone. Still, Nagi suggests she thank the next best thing: Miyashita Touka, despite Touka having no idea what happened. This brings us full circle to the end of the first episode, when Nagi and Kei encounter Touka and Kensuke walking home. All in all, I really enjoyed this intricate little mechanism, and I’m looking forward to the next crisis that will necessitate Boogiepop’s return.

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Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 02 – A Failed Creation

Well, so much for my hasty theory about Kirima Nagi being a murderer, and so much for the calm pace of the first episode; this thing’s a non-stop parade of new characters, motivations, and lashing waves of plot, presented to us out of order.

I won’t lie, it’s a bit of a mess, and definitely not an improvement on the more minimalist premiere. But at least we have some answers about the “man-eater” Boogiepop mentioned, as well as the other players in this tale.

But first, some names: Kinoshita, the girl who was worried about being killed, is walked home by the glasses-wearing Suema, who is into crime psychology books by the late Kirima Seiichi. Kinoshita is suddenly accosted by Kirima Nagi. But it’s a misunderstanding; Nagi thinks Kinoshita is someone called “Manticore”…but she isn’t.

A guy named Saotome happens upon the man-eater while in the middle of eating a second year girl named Yurihara. Saotome pleads that rather than kill him for seeing what he saw, the monster should take the form of Yurihara, and together they’ll take over the world. He names the monster-in-Yurihara’s-form “Manticore”, which…is apt.

Kinoshita tells Suema about Kusatsu Akiko, a girl who distributed a strange drug to four friends, including her. One by one, they started to disappear, including Akiko, which is why Kinoshita feels like she’s next. Suema takes this info to Nagi—her favorite author’s daughter—who only pretends to be a delinquent in order to have more time to investigate the strange goings-on at school, bad rep be damned.

We’re shown that Saotome and Manticore are behind Akiko, the drugs, and the disappearances. Saotome took Akiko out (she had a crush on him), then drugged her drink and gives her to Manticore “modify” her brain to secrete the blue drug.

Akiko is essentially in thrall to Manticore, putting the drug in pills and distributing them to her friends. This is how Saotome and Manticore, who have become something of an item, intend to take over the world.

That brings us to the white-haired guy Takeda saw Boogiepop talk to in the city: his name is Echoes and he’s an alien. Wait…what?! Oh, there’s more, he came here to gauge human kindness, but ended up captured by some shady company that cloned him. That clone? Manticore. Echoes befriends one Miyashita Touka, who stashes him at school and informs Nagi.

Nagi doesn’t go to visit Echoes until Touka has already disappeared; she’s killed when she barges in on Manticore and Saotome. However, the fact she was kind to Echoes is probably a good thing in the cosmic sense…not to mention by bringing Echoes and Nagi together, they must be the duo who defeat the monster before Boogiepop, making her services no longer required.

As I said, there was a lot going on here, and I’m not sure that shifting between times to really served a purpose other than to confuse me…and yet it all seems to be making a kind of crazy sense…at least enough sense for me to tune back in to see what comes next.

Seikaisuru Kado – 04

This week opens with a charmingly weird interaction between Shindou and the government. As the first two passengers leave Kado, he rejects the government’s request to represent Japan at the negotiation table (a role that would give him equal power to the prime minister) and even asks to be fired from all his earthly responsibilities. Everyone chuckles. Shindou has such an oddly specific need for fair play and balance.

Off at UN headquarters, the security council is pressuring Japan to turn over the Wan. In a nice anti-nationalist twist, the Japanese officials understand this view point (they agree if any other nation had Wan, they would ask the same) and would agree to the terms… except Yaha-kui zaShunina doesn’t want them to. To zaShunina, governments are a great structure for security, but they don’t eat bread, and his gift of bread is for the people who eat it: humanity at large.

Meanwhile, scientists are puzzled by the Wam, which appear to have 6 distinct shapes when observed atomically, and have an adaptive charge that immediately raises or lowers voltage to the needs of any connected device. Each Wam could be used as batteries for a phone or to replace an entire power plant. And it’s green energy too, producing no CO2.

The episode comes to a close with the UN giving Japan an ultimatum that includes military action. However, Yaha-kui zaShunina seems to have a plan…

Verdict: Seikaisuru Kado employs many nice framing techniques, including reflections and looking through spaces at the people who are talking. It gives many scenes a great sense of scale, or pushes characters closer together or farther apart. The stiff animations still look silly and the ‘action’ is almost entirely talking but there’s a lot of ‘smart art’ here.

That use of space extended to the clutter in it as well. I noticed the cgi model for the military tank in episode one repurposed as a toy in the background, and a no CO2 poster hanging on the board during the green energy discussion. Lots of little details that, if you have the patience to go back to previous episodes, could tell a small story on their own.

The music is still hilariously terrible and Hanamori’s annoying whiny personality feels out of place in the thoughtful setting. Doctor Crazy too.

Seikaisuru Kado – 03

The Gist: Yaha-kui zaShunina and Shindou have their first true sit-down with the Japanese government and, zaShunina asks the event be open to the press, the world at large. From literally the smallest demonstration, the results are overwhelming for the humans across the table.

zaShunina demonstrates that he is an Anisotropic being by moving his hand through extra-dimensional space, first to slowly grab a bottle of water then to point through himself at Kado. Then he describes Kado, which is a device that allows the connection of Anisotropic and 3D space, and that one possible benefit of this is that he can provide humankind with effectively infinite electrical energy…

What really sells Seikaisuru Kado’s alien mood is the cautious and deliberately precise pace of the dialog. zaShunina understands that meaning is lost through communication — in fact he makes a point of human language intentionally leaving room for interpretation, even without the extra layers of facial expression. However, despite his cautious choice of words and objection to humanization of terms, his alien-ness ad potential confusion shine through.

His explanation of ‘why come to Japan’ using a story about bread and the sharing of plenty, as it relates to an alien concept of Unocle, which has some impact on the physiological impact of Anisotropic space, defies any precise understanding. More over, when this story leads him to offer ‘Wan,’ a multi-dimensional method of providing infinite electricity to all mankind, no one knows what to do. Of course, it didn’t help that he easily cut all power in the area to demonstrate that it could be restored with 2 little balls (which he explains are actually the same object)

Verdict: Kado provides a uniquely methodical tale that blends cautious optimism against uncertainty and dread. You could even call it existential, as it shows us a broad range of human responses to the same information and doesn’t appear to judge which of those responses if correct or ‘better.’ Even though the mad-scientist character annoys me (she feels like a contrived cartoon character and not a person) this alien situation may prove her responses are just as valid, or more, than anyone else’s.

That same pace and weirdness do hold Kado back from being exciting. There’s no action to speak of and, by design, we don’t really know any of the characters enough to grip their agendas. But the cast is generally likable, thoughtful, and the ensuing weirdness is worth you watch.

Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 10

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The last three episodes of lazy onsen antics would seem to have been a concerted effort to lull us into a sense of complacency and security before Yuki got hit by a car and…simply changed. Honestly, she undergoes the most radical character change I’ve seen since Golden Time. It’s sobering; it’s unsettling; it’s downright intense. And it’s also kind of amazing.

That’s because the previously most dramatic moment of this series was when Yuki walked in on Haruhi giving Kyon chocolate. That seems so petty and insignificant now. Also, while I had worried Haruhi would take over the show, here she doesn’t appear at all, not for one second. Nor, ironically, does the sun. It’s all dark clouds and rain, matching the gloom and uncertainty of the situation.

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Also, it takes a little while, but I realized how Yuki was talking and acting: like she did in the Haruhi series: distant, unemotional, nigh impossible to read. In other words, completely different from the Yuki of the first nine episodes. That it feels so very wrong for her to talk and act like this is a testament to how well the show has sold to me the idea of “New Yuki”.

And neither Asakura and Kyon seem to know what to do with her now that she’s seemingly regressed to who we know of as the “Old Yuki” of the other shows, who acts this way because she’s not human, but rather an alien interface. It’s impossible for a veteran of the franchise to not make the connection, which I’m sure is the producers’ intent.

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For the record, I don’t believe there’s any alien influence or other supernatural powers at work here. To that end, the explanation that makes the most sense is that Nagato Yuki suffered some kind of personality-altering brain trauma as a result of the accident (The somewhat spoilery preview shows brain scans that would seem to back this up).

But man, this episode was packed with uncomfortable scenes in which a normally flustered, flattered, or bashful Yuki simply…didn’t have any reactions at all. It’s smart of the show to jettison the others for an episode and keep her with the two people who know her the best, which underlines just how much she’s changed since that encounter with the car.

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I will say I thought the soundtrack was a little over-assertive throughout most of this, except for the very end, when we started hearing stuff we’ve never heard on the show before, stuff that doesn’t jibe with Yuki’s romantic narrative, but something else entirely. Asakura’s look of resignation, followed by her final question to Yuki before the credits roll; essentially, “Who the heck are you?” heightens the tension that accompanies the already ample discomfort and gloom.

I have no idea where the final six episodes will take us, but I can say for sure that my hopes for a “feel-good”, low-effort romance are as broken as Yuki’s primary glasses. But I will also say that the show has my full attention. It’s taken a huge bold step I honestly never saw coming, but probably should have, because of that dang “disappearance” in the title.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 06

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When the Pleiadian spaceship starts to shift into their dimension, the plan to rebuild its engine accelerates, as does the need to find as many fragments as possible. For once, the girls are able to snag one without interference from Dark Minato, but it turns out to be a trap he sets that lets him discover their base.

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He places a magical barrier around the entire school, trapping Subaru inside. After delving into Hikaru and Itsuki’s pasts, personalities, and motivations the last two weeks, HnP swings back around to the pink-haired protagonist, face-to-face with Dark Minato on solid ground for the first time. But before he can get too close, her Drive Shaft activates and brisks her away.

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She ends up in Nice Minato’s observatory, in an embrace neither are embarrassed about. Subaru is scared, and finds solace and comfort here, with him. Is he an old friend she forgot? Why are there two versions of him? Neither of these questions are explained, but as usual, this Minato is able to provide some advice that helps her press forward, despite her fear. But this visit feels like a goodbye.

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A path leads to a new exit, but when she opens the doors to her friends’ delight, all of a sudden the whole damn school is floating up in orbit, just above the Pleiadian spaceship. Exactly why this happens isn’t explained, but it’s very surreal and cool.

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The President says if the spaceship fully shifts and awakens all of his countrymen, it would be very bad, without going into detail, so when Dark Minato attacks them, Subaru blocks his path. She’s decided she’s not giving up the fragments, she’ snot letting him destroy the school, and she’s not letting him hurt Aoi. He gettin’ nothing!

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Even though she’s scared and shaking, it doesn’t matter; she’s not backing down. Dark Minato is taken aback, as he’s used to using fear and little else to keep his adversaries down. Likely due to Subaru’s resolve and show of strength, their Drive Shafts transform into more recognizable Subaru products, and the five of them create a spark that knocks the ship back into a higher dimension where it will be safe until the engine is completed.

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The ship, the school, and her friends are safe, but when she returns to the magical conservatory, it’s dark and barren, and Minato is nowhere to be found. Will they ever meet again? Or was Subaru’s decision to walk down that path and exit out the rooftop door a symbol of moving on from the security blanket of Minato’s counsel; that moving forward meant leaving a part of herself behind?

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P.S. While I still like this show, it’s likely to be next on the dropping block, as Zane wants me to take Re-Kan! off his hands since he’s dropped Mikagura to review Ore Monogatari!!. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

Houkago no Pleiades – 05

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The cosplay club’s class is doing the play “The Lady in the Tower”, and pegged the elegant Itsuki as the princess and the tomboyish Aoi as the prince. Aoi, who is actually pretty girly, gets all gung-ho about making a dress for Itsuki, and Itsuki maintains a pleasant composure and lets everyone do what they want…but she seems a little uneasy, and wigs out when Subaru pulls her bangs back.

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In another Minato’s Garden sequence that calls into question where exactly Subaru actually is during such sequences (it seems likely they’re either in a shared dream or Subaru’s), Subaru likens Minato to the lady in the tower, only he doesn’t see any point in ever leaving; maybe because he doesn’t know what’s out there, or maybe because he’s exactly where he should be.

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In any case, he motivates Subaru to have another go to see what’s up with Itsuki, and they end up “going for a drive” which is a great euphemism (if a bit understated) for ascending into low earth orbit at dusk (they’ve collected enough fragments that this is now child’s play even for Subaru). There, Itsuki tells her about the time she herself was a tomboy, who’d put herself in danger.

While climbing a tree, the wind took her hat, and believing she could fly, leapt off the tree to catch it. The fall gave her a scar, for which her parents blamed her brother. From that point on, Itsuki vowed never to cause problems for others again. The wound on her forehead was still fresh when she saw the Pleiadian ship break up, the event that brought her together with the other girls.

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While up in orbit, the Pleiadian alerts Subaru and Itsuki to a “nearby” fragment, that he tries to draw to them, but instead it draws all of them to it. This results in the expected but still awesome expansion of the scale of the girls’ playground to include the rest of the solar system. In a particularly thrilling and charming sequence, the girls pass Mars, the Belt, and Jupiter while describing all of the foods their colors remind them of.

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When they finally come to a stop in a dense field of ice beads, the camera pulls way, way back to reveal they’re floating over the rings of Saturn, arguably the system’s most photogenic and charismatic planet. The pull-back creates another grand sense of scale; a scale larger than anything that came before. Indeed, the show even mentions the rings are as wide as five earths.

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Naturally, Minato (who may or may not be the same Minato in Subaru’s garden scenes…I’m just not sure yet) was able to follow the girls and tries to snatch the frag, but loses sight of it. Itsuki comes up with the idea of barreling through the rings, which flow like a river, to reveal the frag’s hiding spot, since its mass varies from the ice beads). It’s deeper science than one would expect from a Magical Girl show, and I like it!

Minato tries to go for the frag when they uncover it, but Itsuki decides to, well, not let her hair down, but pull her bangs up, throwing caution to the wind to beat Minato to the frag. I like this more fallable, defeatable Minato better than the bully of earlier episodes. I also liked Subaru and the others’ assurance that Itsuki shouldn’t fear causing problems for them; in fact, they would be honored if she did.

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Her bangs, and the scar below, were kind of like a tower Itsuki built around herself, along with the determination to avoid causing trouble, even if it meant suppressing who she was. If everyone wanted her to be a princess, she’d be one.

But now that she realizes that causing problems for those we love and care fore, and vice versa, is just part of the territory, she makes another bold move that’s true to herself by swapping roles with Aoi in the play. And it really works!

The awesome planetary adventures with dash of hard sci-fi combined subversion of Itsuki’s role in the group as “the elegant princess”, were all factors that contributed to my generous rating. Pleiades is on a roll.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 04

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The magical transformations girls make in Magical Girl shows often go hand in hand with their personal growth. It’s as much about discovery and mastery of their identity as much as their powers.

Pleiades is no different from this convention; where it continues to distinguish itself is in the execution and the emotional impact of its situations. Last week was about Subaru. This week, it’s Hikaru’s turn to get fleshed out.

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At the same time, the show continues to incrementally extend the reach of its magical girl action with each passing episode, much to my delight. First the sky, then the boundary between Earth and space, and now…the moon. The training, involving being able to attain not only escape velocity, but a speed that will ensure they don’t miss school! I love it.

While largely about the highly intelligent and talented, yet underachieving Hikaru’s personal emotional impasse with her similarly intelligent, talented, overachieving parents, there’s also room this week for Subaru’s weekly visit to Minato’s garden of encouragement, where he plants the seed of believing someone, and being believed, if there’s no reason for them to think you’re lying.

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That’s important, because Hikaru’s family communicates their daily whereabouts primarily through whiteboard. Her apartment may look empty and lonely at first glance, but that board is crucial, dutifully filled out as it is every day without fail: it’s the way they devised to always stay in contact in spirit, if not often in person.

Before leaving for the moon, Hikaru makes something up on the board, once again “doing things halfway”. But then she decides to wipe out the white lie on the whiteboard and write where she’s actually going: the Moon.

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It’s another awesome journey full of grace and grandeur; another wonderful study on the full breadth of magical girl power. I especially liked the different, more subtle sound space made once the girls were clear of Earth’s atmo, and I really enjoyed Hikaru’s cute little dream where her subconscious’ version Subaru as a bit of an idiot—only to learn Subaru shared her dream!

That’s also key because Subaru knows about Hikaru’s unease with her father and the song he wrote. One night she heard music in his practice room even though he wasn’t in there, and decided to write a measure of music in a place where he had gotten stuck. It’s something she always felt guilty about, worried she was interfering in her parents fully achieving their dreams.

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Where she’s wrong is that she is the shared dream of her parents; one far more important than any concerto or astronomical discovery. When her dad sees she wrote down “Moon!” on the whiteboard, he and her mom work together to send his piano music to the Moon; to the cherished daughter they don’t feel they deserve.

She didn’t mess up her dad’s music; she helped him finished it, and the loving way he plays it demonstrates his pride and gratitude for that. The nabbing of their biggest fragment yet is a great product of their lunar excursion, but it’s overshadowed by Hikaru finally being able to show her feelings in front of her friends, who may be initially shocked by her tears, but are also happy they’re seeing another side of their friend.

So, all in all another very good episode from Pleiades. I look forward to seeing who’s turn it will be to get a little more fleshed out next week—Itsuki? Nanako?—and hope the show’s expansion will proceed deeper out into the solar system, and beyond!

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Houkago no Pleiades – 03

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I entered my third week of Pleiades a bit ambivalent. Here was a nice-looking show with a mild degree of Gainax flair whose most glaring flaw was a slavish adhesion to the well-tread magical girl formula, with a hint of repetition Even the girls seem a bit listless in their cosplay club, wondering whether they’re just going through the motions in vain, having worked hard to secure another engine fragment, only to have it snatched away by that stuck-up crimson-haired twerp.

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The alien president tells the girls it isn’t their potential that’s the problem, only their amorphous wills and resolve, which are borne out of the fact they’re in the gray area between childhood and adulthood. When Subaru comes home to see her father tinkering with defective engine parts (probably from a Subaru), she sees herself as a defective part, keeping the machine that is the group of girls from working properly.

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At another accidental visit to Minato’s garden, she laments her crippling hesitation in making decisions, but when Minato asks her the question “do you want to be with them?” she doesn’t hesitate; she does. It’s not that she hasn’t made a decision, she’s just scared of executing. But Minato tells her she shouldn’t think of herself as the only one who’s scared. When you have friends, you cease being defined merely by yourself, but by others, revealing things you never knew you possessed.

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Despite thinking she’s a fifth wheel, what Subaru possesses, at least in the immediate present upon returning to the clubroom, is the ability to amplify the signal of Nanako’s tracking circle, which allows them to pinpoint the next fragment. Just like Subaru said, her friends were waiting for her. Far from being left behind, they needed her power in order to proceed.

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Pleiades truly distinguished itself this week, both in breaking the pattern of the first two eps and greatly expanding the depth and breadth of the girls’ powers under the Pleiadian, who is able to harness more of their potential the more unusual situations they find themselves in. This time, neither they nor Minato manage to grab the fragment in the sky, and it drops into the ocean, but because they’re magical girls, they don’t have to worry about the lack of air or the crushing pressure of those depths…though they do have to change into swimsuits! Umi Monogatari, anyone?

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The expansion continues when, after they surface with the fragment, and the duel with Minato continues, Itsuki, their best flyer, is able to level up thanks to help from Subaru spotting the wind. This level-up is accompanied by even more overt Subaruization of Itsuki’s drive shaft, complete with Forester grille and instrumentation. Where before she was hitting the rev limiter above a certain altitude, now she can soar ever higher into the sky, with the others in tow. Aoi then uses her athletic prowess to knock the fragment away from Minato for the others to catch.

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Before they know it, they’ve risen all the way up into space, adding yet another layer of grandeur and discovery to their exploits this week. Minato follows them even here, but this time Subaru uses strong, uncompromising words to force his retreat. She rejects all the mean things he says, and insists they have as much a right to the fragments as they do, and she won’t hear her and her friends be called failures.

After he’s gone, the girls can “hear space”, their potential realized to a level never before achieved. It’s very grand and a bit trippy thanks to the ambient music and striking visuals.

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The episode closes back down on the good old earth with a nice family moment. Her father tells her she’s not some manufactured part that can only serve one purpose. Rather she can take any shape she wants at any time, and indeed, that’s what we observed from her and her friends: all of them chip in here and there, according to their individual strengths, and together they form a a humming fragment-collecting engine to be reckoned with. All they have to do is have confidence in themselves and trust in one another, and they’ll do fine.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 02

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Pleiades is undeniably pretty and inoffensive show, but at the end of two episodes the forgiving sheen of newness has worn off, revealing what is (and was from the start, really) a fairly lightweight and highly derivative affair.

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Whether being very reminiscent of a show I’ve already watched is grounds for dropping depends on the show it reminds me of, and in this case, Pleiades is at a a distinct disadvantage. It’s directed by the same guy who helmed FLCL, while its obvious thematic and aesthetic inspiration would appear be Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

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Pleiades isn’t nearly as original as Fooly nor as dark and profound as Puella, and if we’re honest, contributes virtually nothing new to stand apart from either. But to be fair, both those shows cast huge shadows…and despite its directorial pedigree and familiar milieu, it’s also not really trying to approach the greatness of those singular classics.

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Rather, it’s content to have a good old time bringing two rootable former friends, who aren’t quite sure why they forgot one another or got split up in the first place, back together. Subaru and Aoi are the focus of this episode, with the latter giving the former flying lessons.

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Again, there’s nothing either deep or groundbreaking, but the two co-leads still made me care about them reconnecting, and indeed its the power of their friendship, and a mutually-remembered song, that nets them two big engine fragments for their alien president.

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Then Minato swoops in and snatches one, and here’s where the show falls down a bit. While he seems to be a nice enough kid in that hidden fountain garden room, to the point he almost resembles a potential love interest for Subaru, his complete character shift to sinister bully feels arbitrary, not to mention repetitive.

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Until there’s a little more revealed about why he’s picking on the girls and Subaru in particular, Minato will remain a rather dull enigma. But despite his sabotage, the girls are making progress, and have even secured a room at their school under the aegis of the official establishment of the “Cosplay Research Club”; as good a cover for a group of magical schoolgirls as any!

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Houkago no Pleiades – 01 (First Impressions)

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FLCL is one of our favorites here in the office—I know I often check Craigslist for used Vespas—and Zane is a fan of the first Medaka Box. So when the director of both is involved with a new show, we at least take a look. And my first impressions of it are pretty good.

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So what have we got? A solid, straightforward, and earnest new entry in the magical girl genre, with enough self-awareness of the legacy it’s carrying on and including enough unique details to keep it interesting. This show will never be accused of inventing the wheel with regards to its character types or the situations they find themselves in, so it comes down to those details, technical execution, and how it makes me feel.

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For those who want a quick(ish) synopsis, here goes: Subaru (pink hair) is a relatively unremarkable, slightly slow and clumsy girl who loves stargazing and ends up invited into a secret club of classmates, including her former friend Aoi (blue hair) by their president (a jellyfish-lke alien).

The balance of the quintet is made up of Itsuki (raven hair), Nanako (lilac), and Hikaru (orange). There’s also a sickly dude Subie meets who has crimson hair. Whatever your favorite color—or hat type, for that matter—there’s a girl for you!

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We follow Subaru through her brisk initiation, which half-explains things along the way, because even the already initiated know very little about exactly what’s going on. For those not aware, Subaru is the Japanese term for the constellation Pleiades, and also the brand name for Fuji Heavy Industries’ automobile division, with the constellation as their logo.

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Some of HnP’s amusing details may only appeal to gear/petrolheads or owners, but Subaru’s family owns a Subaru R1, and the front ends of the broom-like “drive shafts” they use to fly resemble the front fascias of various Subaru models. Whether this is stealthy product placement or simply the creators’ love of the marque, I for one love Subarus, so I’m glad they made the connection.

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Whether it’s flying over them in airplanes or bursting through them in a movie or tv show, there’s something awe-inspiring about the cloudtops at dusk, especially when there’s a big rainstorm just below them. That breathlessness is captured perfectly when Subaru’s drive shaft shoots her into the stratosphere, followed closely by her new comrades, in order to capture an engine fragment of their alien president’s spaceship.

They fail on their first try, and indeed have never succeeded up to that point, but when Subaru realizes Aoi doesn’t know what she’s doing any more than she does, she finds her confidence and leads them back, and this time they succeed in cutting off, degenerating, and finalizing the fragment, all terms that are intentionally not expanded upon, because there’s no time for elaborate explanations, even if the other girls had them, which they don’t.

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Enter the good/bad antagonist: when Subaru is attacked by a “dark shooting star”, the crimson-headed bishonen Minato saves her from falling, but steals the fragment away, as if in payment. However, the fact of the matter is, Subaru, slow and clumsy she may be, was the group’s missing piece, and she even manages to score a mini consolation fragment. The episode closes with the new quintet watching the meteor shower Subaru had been looking forward to all day.

I was looking forward to HnP as soon as I heard about it, and while it wasn’t life-changingly fantastic, it was a solid, colorful, entertaining effort with a hearty helping of whimsy, which is easy on the eyes (unlike Sailor Moon Crystal, which I couldn’t quite get through) but not too taxing on the ol’ noggin. An ideal show for hump day.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 45

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ATM! is best described as a show in which a lot of stuff happens. That stuff doesn’t always make sense or have any kind of narrative substance to it, but it does happen. There’s so much crammed into the show, apportioned a few scant minutes at a time, most everyone is bound to find something interesting. And I do, just about every time.

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ATM! throws stuff out there and sees what sticks. The Alien-inspired “facehugger” scene is one of its funnier pop culture references, and it only takes up a few moments.

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Less subtle is the lightsaber ‘duel’ between Tenchi and Momo, with ‘duel’ in quotes because they’re not really fighting; he’s trying to stabilize her physical form…or something.

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Like Washuu’s Alienesque booby trap, there’s an attempt to repurpose well-known icons to fit the bizarre story.

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Meanwhile, we’re meant to root for Washuu, even though she’s kinda guilty of murder on a mass scale…or crimes so diabolical there aren’t even laws in place for them. And in a nod to the show’s penchant for irrationality, Washuu is arrested by basically failing to account for Mihoshi’s utter lack of rationality. Airheads have baffled eggheads since time immemorial!

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That brings us to the big finish: the entire world appears to be halved, or possibly split between two dimensions. Tenchi and Momo are dangling precariously over the fissure, from which spouts peach flower petals. It could just be my depraved mind, but I can’t get over the possibility this is all elaborate symbolism for a ‘girl entering womanhood’, with Momo’s protector Beni being unable to ‘stop nature’.

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Space Dandy – 02

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Space Dandy is the intergalactic comedy that takes its time and hangs out in bars—ramen shops. When none of Dandy’s alien quarry turns out to be rare, he ejects Meow into space, only letting him back into the ship when Meow promises he knows the location of a Phantom Ramen. A wide-ranging culinary journey ensues, with the contents of the bowls growing more bizarre and outrageous as Dandy’s bank account empties.

So what happens here is that Dandy, eager to make a buck, agrees to spend what money he does have matching noodle bowls with his unreliable new sidekick, who Dandy knows is only interested in eating and wasting time. All the while, Meow is inadvertently telling the enemy Dr. Gel exactly where they are by tweeting each restaurant they patronize. Dandy also meets the lovely (and limber) Scarlett, who takes out the first wave of Gel’s foot soldiers not to save Dandy, but as payback for spilling her bowl.

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Honey may give Space Dandy the time of day, but that’s her job. Scarlett is not the least bit seducd by Dandy’s wiles, especially when he asks for money. Still, once QT discovers Meow’s tweets and his phone is disposed of, the threat from the Gogol Empire is neutralized. It’s about this time when we started wondering how Dandy & Co. get themselves killed this week, but the episode’s final act didn’t follow that pattern; not exactly, at least. The only similarity to last week’s ending is that Dandy and Meow end up in another tense, dangerous situation, as the source of the stale but tasty Phantom Ramen turns out to be in a wormhole.

But after that mind-bending journey they emerge on the other side in a very calm, eerily gorgeous alternate dimension, and the comedy is put on hold for the surprisingly moving story of an ancient Earth-trained alien ramen master, possibly inspired by Jiro Dreams of Sushi (which we still have yet to see). The alien lives there alone for centuries, and his tears are the secret ingredient. After hearing the old alien’s tale, out of deference, Dandy lets him decide if he wants to come back with them. He declines, and in a hint of karmic justice, Meow loses his to-go bowl in the wormhole, and only Dandy gets the final taste ever.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)