Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 05 – The Princess Is in THIS Castle

I dove into into PriConne’s second season expecting a feast for the eyes as well as for the heart with its lovely slice-of-life lighthearted comedy with a formidable budget. What I was not prepared for was the sheer scope and scale of this season. We’re only five episodes in, but this could have been a penultimate episode or even a season finale!

Peco has been teleported to Landosol by the big bad—whose name I don’t believe has crossed anyone’s lips thus far, but is known as Kaiser Insight—to be “assessed”. Peco is defiant and doesn’t show fear, but the bottom line is Kaiser took everything from her, and has been letting her soul “ripen” to maximum despair.

While that happens, the battle continues without Peco, and Kasumi and Yuuki discover that the Shadows and the golem are headed in Kiiri’s direction. After saving her, Kiiri is gung-ho about being Kasui’s assistant; one on the fast track to being a fellow great detective.

While the others stand by as the shadow army pivots, Karyl stands atop a bluff, knowing full well what just happened: Kaiser teleported Peco away. There’s so much emotion in this little scene, as Karyl struggles with worry over Peco and guilt over the means by which she’s been taken. It’s not like she could have crossed Kaiser, but she still feels awful about doing it.

Kasumi, Yuuki and Kokkoro quickly come up with a plan to use Kiiri as a lure so the golem and army will end up in a lake to be defeated. Kokkoro even has the leaf glider she can now conjure all gassed up, but they hit a sudden and heartbreaking snag: Kiiri, a copy of Kasumi without a soul of her own and thus an anomaly, is erased by the self-correcting systems of the world.

I have to hand it to PriConne, which is no stranger to quickly introducing characters, but it was able to wring a lot more pathos out of me than I’d have thought with the death scene of a character who had just been introduced last week. Now I know why they didn’t cast Minase Inori as Yuni the scholar; instead she does yoeman’s work as both Kasumi and Kiiri.

Kiiri’s erasure from the world leads to Yuuki remembering a previous life he lived with Peco, Karyl and Kokkoro, before being killed in battle protecting Peco. At that point he is sent…somewhere where Ames and Labyrista give him a choice: return to the hopeless battle from whence he came, or “cast his eyes downward and start anew”, re-building his bonds from scratch.

It’s at this point when I remind readers I’ve never played the source game and have no idea how much of this expansive story comes from that and how much is original, or even how deep it goes. Yet I don’t really mind that sometimes I’m lost, because it just means I have to use my brain to fill in the blanks. With a show that looks this good with characters this lovable, that’s not a chore at all.

You could say Yuuki and Peco have experienced similar fates: both lost everything, but are absolutely defiant and determined to get it all back. Kaiser thinks she’s won when she gets Peco to make a despairing face over the prospect of being forgotten again. But it will take a hell of a lot more hardship and despair for Peco to give up.

Obliterating the gaggle of Shadows Kaiser sicced on her, Peco invites Kaiser to share a meal so she can understand her better. Kaiser declines, but Peco reminds her she’s no longer just Princess Eustania of Landosol; she’s also Pecorine of the Gourmet Guild. Kaiser concludes that Peco still isn’t quite “ripe” enough and teleports her back to the battle…but not before vowing to take everything Peco has left.

Back on the scene and falling from the sky, everyone revels in Peco’s return, and Yuuki powers her up so she can deliver the mother of all Princess Strikes, defeating the golem and the army in one beautifully-animated explosion that really packs a punch. It’s Gurren Lagann-level coup-de-grace, and it reminds us just how determined and capable Peco is of following through on her promise to get everything that’s been taken from her back.

Once the dust clears, the search for Peco among the golem rubble and rent earth commences. It’s very fitting that the first one to spot her is Karyl, who cannot hide the fact that her worrying about Peco brought tears to her eyes. When Peco sees those tears, she gets emotional too, and simply says “I’m home” and “I’m starving.”

Some rubble gives way, and Karyl slides right into Peco’s waiting embrace. She calls Peco a dummy like usual, but also says “welcome home.” She’s not talking about their cozy cottage, either: for Karyl, home is wherever the people you love happen to be. Kaiser may have sworn to destroy that home, but as long as the Gourmet Guild are together—and flanked by all manner of colorful allies—she’ll have a hard time fulfilling that pledge.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 04 – The Battle of Monster Island

At this point in the game, there have been so many new character intros in PriConne that not only is there still a great deal of mystery surrounding Yuuki’s whole deal, but I’ve even forgotten some of what we’re supposedto learn. The best I can do is assume his dream of an epic battle of godlike champions (plus him and Pecorine) is either a memory from his past life or a glimpse of the future. All I know is the big bad they’re all fighting looks and sounds a lot like Karyl’s boss.

There’s no time for a leisurely breakfast this week, as PriConne has a lot of narrative and liteal ground to cover, so we go from Yuuki’s crazy dream to an equally crazy situation where the Gourmet Guild has bit off more than they can chew. I love how we enter this latest calamity in media res, only later learning that Peco is passed out due to intense hunger.

On Monster Island to capture a rare and delicious cut of meat, the guild is bailed out by a quartet of beastfolk originally from Landosol, who dwell on the island and are ostensibly led by their resident detective, Kasumi (Inori Minase, whom I’m amazed hadn’t voiced a character on this show yet!) It’s a lot of new characters to keep track of, but when PriConne puts so much love into their designs and veteran talent behind their voices, it’s hard to be mad for the wealth of new faces and voices.

The beastfolk party teams up with the Gourmet Guild and split into two groups of four, eventually finding the stronghold of the island’s Shadows. Another awesome battle ensues, with the characters showing off their distinct weapons and styles of fighting, and Yuuki providing a key assist in powering up Kasumi so she can capture a Shadow sample for further study.

When the dust clears, Kasumi finds herself face to face with a Shadow clone of herself, naming her “Kiiri” and eventually changing her clothes and hair so others can tell them apart. Unlike all the other Shadows they’ve encountered, Kiiri is extremely docile and sweet, and while initially somewhat vacant and mechanical, the more she hangs out with Yuuki and his glowing power, the more she comes alive as a person.

Ramifications of a Shadow clone of Kasumi coexisting with their group from now on aside, the second group meets up to report that a giant golem was swarmed and captured by the Shadows like ants on honey. A digital copy of the golem’s occupant, Metamorregnant, warns the reunited group that once the golem is swallowed up by the Shadows, it will be used to launch an assault on the island’s beastfolk town.

Sure enough, that happens, and for the rest of the episode PriConne shows off its mastery of both scale, kinetic action, and magical chaos and destruction, as Peco rallies the other seven members of the two parties to fight and fight until the threat is defeated. After all, there isn’t a boat big enough to evacuate the settlement.

The eight party members are split between supporters and front-line fighters in the battle, with Yuuki powering up everyone with his glowy powers. Peco, the most powerful fighter of all of them, takes the lead literally running up the hundred-foot-tall golem, then launching not one or two or three but four consecutive Princess Strikes, the final one meant to be the coup-de-grace.

But suddenly, the ring Karyl’s boss gave her glows, and Peco is instantly teleported from the battle to the throne room of her former home, Landosol Castle. She’s welcomed there by Karyl’s boss, but the shocked, pained look on Peco’s face says it all: she is not happy to have been plucked away from her friends in the middle of a crucial battle to save hundreds of innocent people. Karyl’s boss calls Peco Princess Eustania, and it looks like whatever plan she has, she’s putting it into motion now.

A cliffhanger! Like Banished from the Hero’s Party, I tend to prefer PriConne when it’s in sweet, low-stakes slice-of-life mode, just four friends enjoying good food after a fun adventure. But PriConne obviously has larger ambitions, and there’s no doubt in my mind it has the visual chops to pull off whatever it wants, so I’m eager to see where this goes.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 03 – Seeking the Truth of the Forest

While Peco and Karyl clean the house, Yuuki and Kokkoro do the shopping, and encounter an old friend in the eccentric forest elf Aoi (Hanazawa Kana), first introduced back in the sixth episode. She wrangles her fellow “Team B-B”-mates into lending her some emotional support as she answers the summons of a fellow student at the fancy St. Theresa’s Academy for Girls.

The three enter the awesome Beauty and the Beast-esque library, and Yuuki happens upon a pile of books on the floor, under which lies Yuni, a student and scholar who has a very poor memory, but uses a memo book to keep track of her thesis on “The Fundamental Falsehoods that Lurk in Our World.”

Yuni and her fellow “Best Friends Club” members Chieru and Chloe don’t come from money, so the three allied together to win it by achieving a great feat for the sake of the school. There’s a rumored threat in the woods near the academy of “Green Guardians”, so Yuni calls on Aoi and her knowledge of said woods to aid them in getting to the bottom of things. Aoi, in turn, invites the Gourmet Guild to accompany them.

Once in the woods, the party of eight soon learns that they’re walking in circles and soon become lost; not even Yuni’s semi-sentient pet rock can guide them. Then Aoi gets separated, the team splits up, and one by one vanish into the eerie, thick fog, until only poor Karyl is left to run through the woods in a panic. For a show that leans into goofy comedy, it gets the creepy atmosphere and Karyl’s fear of being alone just right.

It’s an incredible development, then, when we learn that the members of the party were being picked off one by one by none other than Aoi, who had constructed the “Green Guardians” out of wood to be her friends away from the academy. When Peco, Yuuki, and Yuni catch her red-handed, the gig is up. But…as hilarious as this is, it doesn’t solve the underlying mystery.

Graveyards mentioning kings and kingdoms that never existed are then joined by a whole mess of undead skeletons as the forest turns into flaming ruins. There’s also a weird pixelated glitching going on. Something completely unrelated to Aoi’s larger-than-life wooden friends is going on, and it gets right to the heart of Yuni’s hypothesis about a “great deception” in the world.

Everyone is then transported into the memories of the head crowed skeleton, who it appears was once a jolly king beloved by his subjects and in particular one joyful little girl…only for it to all go literally to hell. Something happened to the king, be it some curse or dark corruption, and it sure looks like he presided over the destruction of everything and everyone in his kingdom.

While everyone else is (not wrongly!) wigging out over the scary skeletons with glowing red eyes surrounded by flames, it takes a fellow royal in Peco to notice that they mean them no harm. Like the adventurers in the first episode, the king and the other skeletons simply want to pass on. With a big empathetic hug, Peco does just that.

Many mysteries remain from this very intense quest: why is there no record of the king, his kingdom, or its downfall in any of the books of their world? Yuni apparently already came oh-so-close to unlocking the great overarching secret of her world, only for her memory to fail her and for the academic society to decry her research as pure fiction.

It’s heavily implied, especially from the pixelated glitches, that this world is one of many, just like the one Yuuki came from. But as Yuni joins the others at a tea party at Aoi’s charming home in the woods, she isn’t frustrated or defeated. For her, finding “the truth” has always been secondary to simply learning and absorbing knowledge around her. It’s the intellectual journey, not the destination, that matters most.

I really liked Yuni, and Kohara Konomi does a great deadpan reminiscent of Minore Inase’s Sleepy Princess. She fills the role of “brainy scholar” quite well amongst the band of well-meaning weirdoes and airheads, questioning this world rather than taking it at face value, but ultimately not stressing that much over it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 08 – Big Trouble with Little Lyrical

As she enjoys a sumptuous post-rice planting repast courtesy of Pecorine, Karyl remembers “Her Majesty’s” orders to not only observe the always-hungry knight, but Yuuki as well, and introducing her to the Shadows.

Whenever this exchange took place relative to the Targum quest, it’s clear that Karyl continues to struggle with playing both sides, and that struggle only intensifies as the bonds between her and her guild-mates strengthen.

Other than that initial sobering scene, it’s all fun and games this week, as Little Lyrical, Landosol’s Most Adorable Guild, enlist the aid of the Gourmet Guild to help whip them into a fighting force as formidable as they are charming.

I’ll note that Karyl is the least enthusiastic about taking on an unofficial quest like this that won’t net them any cash (so far all their rewards have been food-related), but even she can’t resist the pleas of the pint-sized trio.

Not only that, Karyl puts her all into designing the perfect route for a training quest. She’s definitely the most meticulous and detail-oriented of the guild, and isn’t in the habit of half-assing anything.

Unfortunately, her best-laid plans are sabotaged when Misogi, Mimi, and Kyouka are left in Yuuki’s care for the quest while the other three observe. Yuuki’s sense of direction is no better than that of his charges.

That said, Peco’s monster costume is impressive and she ends up underestimating the trio’s offensive prowess. It’s when they continue to stay from the prescribed path and run into real monsters (all of which want to chew on Yuuki’s head, of course) that Karyl and Kokkoro must act quickly and quietly to vanquish said monsters lest Little Lyrical end up in big trouble.

Ultimately, the off-the-rails practice quest crosses with the quest to defeat a giant bird monster ruining rice paddies, as the bird carries Yuuki to her nest and Little Lyrical are all KO’d after a valiant attempt to rescue him. The peril is upped when Karyl and Kokkoro run out of magic (having defeated monsters all day) and Peco is not only trapped in her costume but too hungry to fight.

That is, until a well-placed strike from the bird frees Peco, she eats the lunch Little Lyrical packed, and Princess Strikes the bird into oblivion.

The quest thus complete, but with Little Lyrical nowhere near the actual designated goal, Pecorine offers a giant egg as their reward, only for it to hatch into a giant, adorable chick that immediately imprints upon the trio, becoming their new mascot and conveyance. With that, the Gourmet Guild returns to the paddies to plant rice, much to Karyl’s chagrin.

PriConne definitely takes the kawaii factor up a couple dozen notches with the focus on Little Lyrical, and your enjoyment of this episode will depend on your tolerance for cuteness. Everything about Misogi, Mimi and Kyouka screams Squeeee, from their play-acting outside the tavern and their initially clumsy tactics, to their instant bond with their new feathered friend.

I for one had a gas watching them, and the Gourmet Guild proved perfect teachers, letting them largely figure things out for themselves and offering aid when needed.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 07 – Beating Back the Shadow

When a battered Elizabeth Park arrives in Targum without Shiorin, her sister Hatsune leads a search party consisting of Yuuki, Kokkoro, Rima and Aoi. When Hatsune uses her flight ability  to get a better look at the forest, she is attacked from the ground by Shiorin, whose body has been taken over by one of the creepy “Shadows”.

Suddenly our fantasy culinary slice-of-life comedy has become a serious action drama…and that turns out not to be a bad thing at all. How crazy is that?!

Back in the village, Karyl wandered off by herself when Yuuki and Kokkoro left with Hatsune. She knows all about the Shadows, since her mistress is behind them. This awakens Karyl’s split loyalties, and her inner conflict is further exacerbated when Pecorine tracks her down.

Peco sensed Karyl was feeling down despite the fact Karyl herself thinks she always looks the same. Peco may be an airhead, but she’s got emotional intelligence in spades, and is now good enough friends to know when Karyl is troubled.

Hatsune’s search party is suddenly attacked by Christina, who is excited for this “new act” and wants to have some fun. Despite outnumbering her 5-to-1, the party isn’t able to put a dent in her, thanks to her ability to phase out of solid form, which is almost cheating!

Then she KO’s Yuuki, who wakes up back at his starting point, where the oracle-like guide reminds him only he has the “Princess Knight” power to save the others. He wakes up, buffs his fellow party members, and together they fight Christina until she’s satisfied enough to withdraw for the time being.

As they’re fighting out in the wild, Peco finds herself the only line of defense against an army of Shadows attacking the village, led by Dark Shiorin. She doesn’t have much trouble with individual Shadows, but there are dozens of them, and she didn’t eat a big enough breakfast, so she starts to become fatigued.

After a period of passively observing (as is her mission), Karyl decides to pick a side and back Peco up with her powerful conjuring magic. Hatsune’s party returns, and Hatsune uses her “mild-meld” ability to enter Shiorin’s unconscious, where her true self is being held captive.

However, Shiorin is being held captive as much by her own fear of being a burden to her sister than she is by the Shadow. Hatsune doesn’t want to hear such nonsense, and snaps her sister out of her pity party, holding her arm steady as she fires an Enchanted Arrow at the Shadow.

Meanwhile, Karyl conjures a vortex to suck up the weakened Shadow, and Pecorine delivers a Princess Strike coup-de-grace to secure a complete victory for the good guys. Shiorin is herself again, no one is the worse for wear, and Yuuki is now aware of the power surging within him.

Still, while Yuuki’s role this week was important, the heart of the episode was the pairs of Hatsune/Shiorin and Pecorine/Karyl. At no point did Pecorine call out for Karyl’s help or wonder where she was when she was wavering. Both that confidence in her comrade and ability to sense when she’s troubled ultimately spurred Karyl to Do the Right Thing.

That said, this is the latest of many times she’s gone far beyond her observation mandate. There may be consequences in store for her should her mistress find out how much she’s helping her target. But perhaps Karyl is finally starting to realize she won’t have to face those consequences alone: those whom she sided with care about her and will have her back come what may.

With a briskly moving, exciting episode that brought darker themes to the forefront, PriConne reached a new high. Sure, it’s arguable whether so many characters were required to tell this story (it’s fun having Rima and Aoi around but they weren’t all that integral), but they’re all fun, likable characters, and splitting the Gourmet Guild paid big dividends.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 06 – Bye-Bye Loneliness

After Karyl returns “30% better” (and a certain additional % traumatized) the Gourmet Guild departs from the big city for their first real quest. They’re headed to a village called Targum to harvest a treasured spice of the same name. There’s a palpable sense of adventure and occasion to leaving the walls of the city thanks to the heroic direction and stirring overworld score.

When they make camp for the night and Karyl is unsuccessful in catching any fish in the “useless” lake, she dreads a supper of bugs or frogs. Pecorine comes to the rescue with a plump fowl she caught in the forest, and slow-cooks in a pit for maximum juiciness. She also found some sweet ripe fruits, one of which Kokkoro is about to eat when the other three start acting drunk. Unsurprisingly, Pecorine isn’t that different drunk, while Karyl is sloppier and more sentimental.

The next day while everyone’s guard is down, Yuuki is suddenly captured by a mischievous behemoth, but he’s rescued by a forest elf archer named Aoi, who is a self-professed “lonely soul” so desperate for friends she made one out of a small log. Hanazawa Kana provides the voice for both Aoi and her woody friend, whose bizarre antics and monologuing even make Yuuki a little weirded out.

The others eventually find Yuuki, and Aoi leads the guild to Targum, where they meet Misato, who along with her sister and Hatsune form the group called Forestier. She’s glad for the spice harvesting help, and announces that a third group, Elizabeth Park (to which llama-girl Rima belongs) is also on their way to the village. The Gourmets eventually encounter the eccentric Hatsune sleep-flying…a term I didn’t know I needed in my life until I witnessed it!

Unfortunately, Elizabeth Park encounters a lot more trouble than a Yuuki-glomping behemoth. Rima and her three comrades (including Hatsune’s ill sister Shiori) encounter strange “dark doppelgangers” of themselves (just like a woodsman did earlier in the episode). Liz-Park proceeds to fight them to a stalemate until a powerful warrior named Christina blasts the foes away and challenges them to a fight.

Shiori is separated from the others, and her dark double returns and appears to consume her in a ball of dark energy, leaving no trace. Even though I’ve just met Shiori (and her very extra sister), her fate represents the most genuine unknown peril we’ve seen befall someone. I imagine spice harvesting won’t be at the top of Forestier’s list of priorities next week…they’ve got a sister to save!

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.

7_mag

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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Working’!! – 01

This pre-air episode follows Takanashi, Inami, Popura, Aoi, and all the other employees around at a typical day at Wagnaria family restaurant. Jokes are told, tiny things are declared cute, punches are thrown, and dishes are broken. Like I said, typical.

From the looks of it, the new, aprostrophe’d Working’!! will not diverge considerably, or at all, from the original Working!!, but will be a vehicle for new material in the same setting with the same ensemble cast – and perhaps a new face here or there (a girl with Leia-like buns in her hair is glimpsed only for a moment but not heard). That’s okay, as the first season was very watchable, lightweight slice-of-life in which the quirkiness of the characters lent spice to the proceedings.

We’ll have to wait until October to see if new material will indeed be infused in the formerly successful recipe of the Spring 2010 series. If things get too repetitive vis-a-vis Takanashi and Inami, or too tedious vis-a-vis Yamada (the former new kid) and the new new kid (whoever she is), well, there are potentially a lot of series more worthy of RABUJOI’s undivided attention. But from what was seen in this sneak peek, we’ll probably be watching.


Rating: 3

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