Bunny Girl Senpai – 03 – Facing the Atmosphere

Sakuta doesn’t wake up at 6 in the morning, because he never slept in the first place, while Mai sleeps soundly. It starts a string of days Sakuta doesn’t sleep, because as he soon learns upon returning to school, everyone there has forgotten her except his sciency friend Futaba and himself—neither of whom got any sleep last night.

It isn’t murder by Freddy in his nightmares Sakuta fears, but the prospect of forgetting Mai. So he stays up, under the pretense of cramming for exams. The next day, Futaba has slept, and forgets Mai, all but making it official. The bags under his eyes grow larger and darker as he pops stims, chugs “Blue Bull”, but Mai picks up on what’s going on.

One night, during an ostensible study session, Mai slips sleeping pills in his drink, and then strokes his head as he slowly, gradually loses consciousness, tears forming in her eyes as she comes to terms with the fact he may not remember her when he wakes up.

That brings us to the opening moments of the first episode, when Sakuta finds the notebook painstakingly detailing his past self’s experiences with Mai. But when he inspects the book, all of the instances of Mai’s name appear blank, leading him to believe it’s a notebook full of wishful thinking.

While the notebook alone fails to jog his memory, it paves the first stone. He gets another when Futaba shows him the notes her past self wrote to herself, surmising that the collective effort of the school, and indeed the rest of the world, to utterly fail to confirm Mai’s existence, could possibly be overridden by a sufficiently powerful confirmation of her existence…i.e., a confession of love.

The final stimulus that brings the memories of Mai rushing back, like water from an unclogged faucet, is a question in the exam that deals with the characters for “security” and “guarantee”; he remembers Mai’s finger pointing them out, and from them on, he knows what he needs to do…and that is to make a complete and utter fool of himself, by running out into the schoolyard and screaming at the top of his lungs that he loves Sakurajima Mai.

He yells himself hoarse, but it has an effect: the other students begin to remember Mai. Then Mai herself appears to share in the humiliation, but also to slap Sakuta for breaking his promise never to forget her, which he definitely did, if only briefly.

If the school was a box and Mai the cat, Sakuta’s bold actions broke the logical stalemate, declaring once and for all that yes, Sakurajima Mai exists, and he loves her. The “atmosphere” of unconscious ignorance of the collective student body was overcome, and thus the “world regained” Mai. She insists Sakuta continue to tell her he loves her as often as possible so that she knows he’s sincere.

From the emotional lows of Mai willingly saying goodbye to the exhausted Sakuta to the highs of him remembering her again their reunion in the yard, this was a roller coaster of an episode; Bunny Girl Senpai’s best outing yet. Was his public outburst corny? You betcha…but that’s the point!

In order to “bring her back”, he had to step out of the flow and do something no one else did. A stern talking-to from the faculty is well worth it, because Mai will be getting one right beside him. So far BGS is smart, clever, mature, and engaging romantic comedy done right.

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Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 09

I had high hopes for some enjoyable festival times with a newly reunited Akira and Haruka, but the reveal of the episode’s title, “Rain of Sorrow” (yikes!), After the Rain had other ideas. While Akira made a nice gesture by inviting Haruka out, there’s no avoiding the fact the two have drifted apart considerably.

When Haruka watches Akira interact with Kondou (who is there with Yuuto), Haruka is thrown for a loop when Akira makes it clear she likes someone so “old.” It’s a reasonable thing for a high schooler to say, but Akira doesn’t take kindly to it, and cuts off the discussion.

That, in turn, leads Haruka to lose her temper, since Akira has made it almost impossible to talk to her about anything anymore. With a few words that probably weren’t meant to cut as deeply as they do, Akira has Haruka running home crying. Those words? “We can’t go back to how we used to be.”

That’s damned harsh, and I’m a little disappointed in Akira for going there so quickly, but then again, perhaps a degree of maturity and pragmatism have rubbed off on her, both from Kondou and the reality of not being able to run. Bottom line, harsh or not, Akira is right, and she’s not quite sure how to integrate Haruka back into her life.

Somewhat conveniently, Kondou is going through the same thing, only at a more advanced stage: he’s meeting an old friend and classmate Kujou Chihiro at their old watering hole, where they’re the only two guys who aren’t college students.

Kujou is the author of the book Kondou checked out of the library and got mad at the Amazon reviewer about. And it’s lovely to see these old friends gel so nicely right out of the gate (beer and delicious food help grease the proverbial wheels).

It’s also apparent Kujou holds Kondou’s opinion and skills as a writer in high regard; perhaps even beyond his own, which is why he doesn’t believe Kondou when he says he doesn’t write anymore. He does, but rather than a dream he wishes to achieve, it’s “just a little something.”

But there’s a reason Kondou and Kujou haven’t seen each other in ten years. Kondou was meant to join Kujou and other classmates on a trip to India, but he ditched them to marry Yuuto’s mother, while Kujou’s experience kicked off his successful writing career Kondou wanted but apparently put aside for love and family.

Kondou and Kujou never had a grand public yelling match in full yukata regalia like our girls, but through their individual choices and the passage of time, grew apart to the point they couldn’t go back to how they used to be. There may be other times when they see each other to drink and talk. When together, they’re not adults, but classmates. But there will never be a time like back they enjoyed in their youth. Nostalgia, indeed!

The new term starts for Akira, and while her other track friends are friendly, since she hasn’t made up with Haruka, things are still awkward between them, and Akira isn’t sure how or even if she can mend fences, because she’s just as behind in what Haruka is thinking and feeling as vice versa.

Kondou (who made sure to tell Kujou his depiction of high school girls was inaccurate, no doubt based in part on his friendship with Akira), can sense Akira is down about something, and unlike with Haruka, Akira can relatively easily tell him what that something is.

Their talk is interrupted by work, but at close Kondou has Akira join him outside once more, where he presents her with a gorgeous supermoon (and what a great closeup of Akira’s eyes reacting to it’s glory) upon which to wish.

Kondou also lays down some adulty wisdom: even if she and her friend are growing apart, the irreplaceable moments they shared won’t disappear, so perhaps neither will the possibility they’ll grow closer again someday. Sometimes people need to grow apart to truly find themselves. But in Akira’s case, I think she should attempt to make up sooner rather than later; I don’t think they’re irreconcilable.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 08

The opening moments of this week’s episode almost felt like a dreaded recap, but thankfully was just meant to establish the fact that Akira and Kondou are FRIENDS! Yes, JUST FRIENDS.

After that hug, the show—and Kondou!—wisely slows things way down while the episode spends a lot more time with the secondary characters that populate the couple’s life, to very pleasing effect. Also, Akira has a big pimple on her right cheek!

Take Yoshizawa: He’s spent many an episode trying to befriend Akira, to absolutely no avail. When Yoshizawa hears Kondou is friends with Akira he wants to be friends too, but Kondou sidesteps the issue by scolding his long bangs, threatening termination before they have a chance to be friends. It’s a joke, but Yoshizawa takes it seriously.

Enter Akira’s other co-worker of similar age, Nishida, who likes Yoshizawa and wants to get closer. She finds one in offering to cut his hair for him after work, which he’s a lot more enthusiastic about than she expected. After he leaves, she and Akira engage in “guy talk” for the first time, to the benefit of both.

Nishida stresses the importance of taking things step by step, which Akira needs to hear, while Akira tells Nishida that a friendship can turn romantic given enough chances for them to get to know one another and deem them more than friends. But there’s no rush!

What’s nice about this post-hug transition is that Kondou doesn’t avoid or ignore Akira; he’s not even bothered or uncomfortable by her presence. This is to be expected: we know, especially from last week, that Kondou is a decent sort, along with being, you know, a full-fledged adult.

As such, Akira uses his loud proclamation of their friendship to take a very logical step: she says “friends text each other”, and successfully acquires his contact info. A little step that brings them closer; now she can converse with him and learn from him even when he’s not around.

As she leaves work she’s practically floating on air, but so are Nishida and Yoshizawa, clearly hitting it off as he’s given a haircut. There’s just good vibes all ’round, and Akira finally gets to dance in giddy delight without being interrupted by a self-important Kase!

The second half expands the show’s horizons to a very satisfying scene between Haruka, arguably Akira’s best friend, and the recently-retired captain of the soccer team, Yamamoto. At first his presence displeases her, especially when he brings up Akira (imitating her almondlike eyes). But when she runs away, he follows, and he gets hurt.

Like Akira, Yamamoto had to leave the club because of a leg injury. Haruka wonders if Akira doesn’t love running anymore. Yamamoto asks if Akira said as much, and if she didn’t, it means that’s not the case. He considers Akira far more talented than him, so while both he and she might still want to play soccer or run, respectively, the high expectations the track star has from both within and without make her extra-cautious.

Yamamoto thinks Akira will be fine, especially when she has friends like Haruka who care about her. It’s just what Haruka needs to hear, and he manages to cheer her up considerably. Like Nishida and Yoshizawa hitting it off, Yamamoto and Haruka simply feel right together, showing that After the Rain isn’t just a one-couple pony!

From there we’re back in the office with Akira doing her homework. She’s unfortunate enough to be applying ointment to her pimple right as the manager comes in, but much more fortunate that the subject of her homework is in Modern Japanese, specifically Rashomon, which he’s recently read, and not for the first time.

I love how into it Kondou gets, calling the very question she’s stuck on a bad one, unless it doesn’t count towards her grade, because it’s a question with many answers depending on the individual. It’s almost fate that Akira has a pimple in the same place as the servant-thief of the story.

The end of the story—with the servant running into the RAIN towards a town to commit a robbery—finishes with the words “what happened to the lowly servant, no one knows,” which Akira believes is the perfect opportunity for a sequel, something Kondou had never considered.

Kondou also says that if he were the thief he’d likely stay under the rashomon, out of the RAIN, to avoid causing trouble, since he’s old and lives timidly. He also sees her pimple as a sign of youth, since he doesn’t get them anymore. It’s all him trying to maintain his stance that he’s not worth Akira’s affection, and that she’s better off with some guy who still gets pimples.

In any case, the discussion is cut short when, while flipping through her book, Kondou finds the same doodles that first got her in trouble with Kase, and the manager retreats. In the meantime, Nishida is on cloud nine and Yoshizawa gets the praise he so desperately wanted from the manager.

While watching a potential couple blossom before her, one of whom she can consider a new friend in Nishida, Akira looks at all the Summer Festival posters Kondou put up and thinks about her older friend Haruka. A couple taps on her phone, and the next we Akira she’s positively resplendent in her yukata, meeting up with an overjoyed Haruka and taking her hand.

Akira has apparently decided to take her time and trust the process vis-a-vis Kondou, having faith that in time a friendship can become more, but not to worry about it so much she can’t enjoy that friendship with him or anyone else. It’s very encouraging that she can contact and hang out with Haruka. Like Haruka, I was worried about her for a little bit there!

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 07

For good and ill, things take a major step forward for Kondou and Akira, though you might not have expected such progress early in the episode. Unable to come right out and ask if it’s okay to text him, Akira resorts to small talk, and ends up praising Kondou a bit too much for his taste while he’s working on spreadsheets.

He abruptly ends their chat by practically snarling the dreaded ‘You don’t know anything about me’—six words people who know plenty about each other say all the timeand the last words somebody who is awfully sure she likes someone wants to hear from the person they like. It’s no coincidence in a show called After the Rain that it starts to rain immediately afterwards.

Those words haunt Akira, but she’s determined to go to work and face the person who said them, even though there’s a typhoon approaching Yokohama. She gets there to find Kondou is out with a cold, and his absence, combined with the stress of their unresolves “spat”, throws her off her game, something Kase notices.

Kase, perhaps not thinking just about himself, warns Akira that Kondou may be trying to protect his position and uncomfortable about her attention to him, while she doesn’t want to lose something that’s “fun for her” again. It’s none of his business, but he manages to hit on what Akira is worried about most: that she’s just being a nuisance.

After work, as the weather gets worse and worse, Akira finds herself at Kondou’s front door, and it’s not as if he can turn her away in such conditions. Still, Akira hides her face in her arms, and tells him what she wants: to know him more.

Kondou apologizes for his earlier words, which he realizes were too harsh, but what he meant was that he’s nobody special who isn’t the adult she thinks he is. When she says he’s wonderful, he scoffs and returns the compiment, but she asks him why, if he’s nobody special, her heart aches so damn much.

Kondou demonstrates his affinity for pure literature by giving her a beautiful, almost lyrical response: youthfulness can be rough and vicious, but the emotions felt during that time become a treasure later in life.

Is she a nuisance? Is she not good enough? Both are absurd questions to Kondou. If anything, he’s grateful to Akira for making him remember the treasured emotions he felt in his youth but had forgotten.

The power is out from the storm, but lightning gives the room a gorgeous otherworldly light. This praise makes Akira blush, cry, and tremble, and all Kondou wants to do in that moment is relieve the anxiety of the girl sitting before him, even if he has no right to do so.

So he slowly draws nearer until she is gently in her arms. While he isn’t ready to call what he’s feeling “love”, he decides there and then that he’ll “get wet along side her in her pouring rain.”

Now, the translation probably doesn’t do that  line justice (and indeed may well do it quite a bit of harm), but I get what he’s saying: if she insists on being in his life with her rough, vicious youthfulness, he’ll weather it as they both weather the storm outside.

I’ll be honest, this scene made me very nervous, as in once-a-line-is-crossed-there’s-no-going-back nervous. But the show, mercifully, keeps things above board (though their two umbrellas falling on each other gave me a scare!), and the hug is just a hug.

With that said, I can’t underscore the stunning beauty and energy of this scene, perhaps the show’s best to date. Everything clicks: lighting, music (an orchestral version of the Aimer ED, “Ref:rain”), and of course, the emotions floating around. Our anxiety over how far this will go matches the characters’. The weight of that anxiety is balanced by the lightness of the ethereal atmosphere surrounding our protagonists. Really good stuff.

When Akira grasps his shoulders harder, Kondou promptly pulls away, tells her he only hugged her “as a friend” (riiight), briefly passes out (he is suffering a bad cold), then comes to and gets Akira into a cab.

The next day at the restaurant, Kondou is back but Tachibana is out with a cold. The rest of the staff remarks on the coincidence of the consecutive absences, but not in any way that would incriminate either party.

Akira is at home, in bed, with a fever and ice pack on her head. She then begins to fantasize about hugging Kondou…naked…and, well, you can surely connect the dots from there, though the editing indicates she keeps her hands above the belt.

Regardless, such is to be expected from a healthy young person who just experienced some of the closet and most emotionally meaningful contact with someone else in her life thus far. Her smittenness is tempered by the fact Kondou said it was only “between friends”

Meanwhile, Kondou smokes alone in the restaurant office, restless and doubtless uneasy about what he might have wrought with that hug, both in Akira’s heart and in his own. Here was a man, who if not content, was certainly resigned to a lonely life doing his job and raising his boy. That certainly seems to have changed. To be honest, nothing in his monologue indicated he desired Akira, but he does care about her very much.

P.S. After reading some discussion on this episode, someone brought up the possibility that Kondou’s “you know nothing about me” wasn’t even directed at Akira, but was a response to the Amazon reviews of the book that he wrote under a pseudonym. The “acquaintance” is actually him! I really like that angle.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 06

Akira is more than just her infatuation with Kondou; she’s just choosing to dedicate all of her headspace to him at the cost of everything and everyone else. I’m not judging her choice—I have no right to, and don’t even really disagree with it—I’m just stating the facts here.

One of the casualties is Kyan Haruka, who has been friends with Akira for ages. Theirs is a friendship that endured being separated for their last year and change of junior high. They said they’d be back together again, and then they were. Then Akira was injured and was torn away from the thing she loved most,  and the primary reason for their hanging out: running.

Haruka now finds herself in the unintentional, unfortunate position of being a constant reminder of what Akira has lost. That can wear down a friendship in a hurry, so when Haruka spots Akira at a bookstore, she’s weary of approaching her (especially after their last, not-so-smooth encounter) and almost seems relieved when Akira’s co-worker appears.

It’s not just Haruka keeping her distance. Even when Akira doesn’t have her head in the clouds about Kondou, when she spots Haruka, her friend is seemingly constantly being orbited by a host of other runners. It’s not intimidating per se, but perhaps too brazen for her to be able to handle.

This week’s episode covers Akira’s latest efforts to court Kondou while Haruka seeks a way to reconnect, and while that’s about it in the plot department—and that’s all very nicely done—what truly made this a treasure (and a 9) for me was the wonderful atmosphere, and the amount of breathing space one has within the episode.

After the flashback to Akira and Haruka, we’re treated to a virtually dialogue-free montage of Akira getting on with her day: missing a bus; trekking in the Summer heat; catching a gorgeous view of the town; and going to work.

It’s a beautiful and effective way of showing us that there is indeed more to Akira than her Kondou crush or Haruka troubles. She’s her own person, living life and taking the time to stop and enjoy its scenery.

While waiting for a bus, Akira hears from two younger girls about the magical romantic properties of a certain rare cat keychain, and attacks the dispenser with her yen, gaining dozens of keychains, but none of them the one she needed.

It’s while she’s obsessively turning the crank when Haruka spots her. She hides at first, but when Akira doesn’t stop buying keychains, she intervenes, as a good friend should.

Their ensuing time together is rather distant, but cordial. After all, these two have no particular beef; they’re both victims of circumstances that have limited their interactions of late. But Akira gives Haruka some duplicate keychains she has, and before parting ways at cram school, wishes her good luck at practice.

Haruka and I both agree that “good luck” is an olive branch on Akira’s part; and an acknowledgement that just because Haruka can run and she can’t doesn’t mean she hates her.

I tellya, the skies just keep getting better and better in this episode, like the brewing thunderstorm near dusk when Haruka does a practice run. She remembers Akira’s smile earlier in the day, as well as the keychain(s) she gave her, and Haruka is suddenly taken back to the day she learned why Akira always ran so fast and far ahead of her despite her protestations.

It’s not because she doesn’t like Haruka, it’s because she loves the feeling and sound of the wind that one only gets from running. When Haruka says she guess she understands what she’s on about, Akira beams so brightly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruka fell for her right then and there. She certainly caught the running bug after that day.

Haruka doesn’t want to lose the person who made her realize how fun running was, especially when it was with that person. So the next day she tosses a plastic egg to Akira, who opens it to find not only the rare black keychain she couldn’t get on her own, but a note from Haruka clarifying (or hoping) that their friendship isn’t just about track and field.

I’m guessing Akira is grateful for Haruka’s gift, because it then proceeds to work immediately, and she finds herself in the same library where Kondou happens to be. Akira brings up classic Japanese literature (his fave) and asks if he’d recommend anything; he tells her that’s not the best way to discover books, since everyone has different tastes.

He then invites her to explore the library, which he likens to a sea of books, and see what sticks out. She thinks it’s more of an aquarium than a sea, and her surroundings change to match that feeling. She settles on a track-and-field picture book and the famous Souseki novel Botchan.

Juxtaposed with Haruka standing at a bus stop proudly displaying one of the keychains Akira gave her, Akira stands beside Kondou, offering to borrow a book for him to read. Window by the Wave by Kujou Chihiro jumps out at him. They settle up at the front desk, then walk a little ways together before parting for the night, and I can’t help but think finding that book created the tiniest little rift in their flow.

For while Akira was “called” to the library where Kondou was by her black cat keychain, Kondou seems to believe he might’ve been called there by Window on the Wave, calling the author by her first name. Could this book have been written by his ex-wife?

Finally, while walking home the rest of the way, Akira repeats in her head Kondou’s words about a book “calling out to her”, when all of a sudden a gust of wind kicks up and reveals a majestic full moon.

The sight, sound, and feeling of that wind called to mind the same sensations one experiences whilst running at top speed; the feeling she’s loved far longer than she’s loved Kondou.

Mayoiga – 03

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Dozens of people of every disposition and background suddenly isolated in a strange place full of mysteries…Mayoiga, I’ve decided, is the Lost of anime. This episode made that decision a lot easier, especially with the group’s need to hastily grope their way through some kind of rudimentary justice system after one of them tries to harm another.

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One reason “Jack” is looking for a new life is that he was heavily bullied in school, lost it, lashed out, and ended up in juvy. Just because he was released doesn’t mean all his trauma and neuroses are gone; so when Judgeness prods him too far, he lashes out again.

That gets him tied up, and ultimately it’s decided they’ll throw him in a creepy undergound prison for the night, even though some (cough-Lovepon-cough) wants him swiftly executed for his wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Valkana searches feverishly for Yottsun after Masaki is found, with a story of him leading her along until he went off on his own an vanished. Valkana’s obsession with finding him stems from his absolute need not to be called a scapegoat—after just such a thing happened in his “previous” life as a systems engineer (ah, the flashback…one of Lost’s primary narrative devices).

That obsession makes Valkana very short-fused, and Koharun gets a taste of his wrath when she suggests deep down he’s lonely, otherwise he’d never embark on an adventure involving so many other people. The truth hurts some more than others.

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In case anyone was in doubt, Maimai kinda likes Mitsumine, despite her standoffish demeanor towards him. When they encounter one another on the bridge, she’s clearly flattered by his desire to keep her safe, even if that desire extends to, say, Masaki.

Lovepon, meanwhile, remains as loopy as ever about doling out swift justice to those who upset the balance or safety of the group. She believes Jack deserves execution, and anyone who stands in her way deserves it to, as she grabs Mitsumine, falls off the bridge, and tries to drown him.

She does not succeed, but while fighting her off, Mitsumine notices the drowned body of Yottsun floating down the stream. Did Masaki kill him when he tried to rape her, or did he just get killed by a bear? The mind races with possibilities based on the scant information we know. And once more, an episode ends with a hook I can’t quite escape from…

…AND YET, were I to keep saying “One more episode”, I may one day turn around and see that I’ve watched the whole thing, and wasn’t worth it. I committed to watching three episodes, and I’ve watched those three. As enticing as the mysteries ahead may be, I think it’s time to move on.

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Mayoiga – 02

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Mayoiga makes liberal use of its CGI bus model…until it careens down a muddy hill, leaving all the passengers to continue on foot…but not before tossing the bus driver all their wallets as compensation for getting them this far.

The thirty clean-slaters are all different, but they’re alike in one regard: they don’t much care about the driver’s dignity; or at least those who do don’t speak up strongly enough when it counts.

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We learn a little more about Mitsumune, like how Speedstar AKA Hayate is his classmate, friend, and long-time protector…and how he’s easily wooed by girls, due to not having much experience with them (all boy’s school).

With Koharun and her map, the group trudges through the forest, hoping to avoid bears (or bear-like monsters) and eventually come upon a bridge that leads to a village that matches the descriptive details Koharun has at hand. They’ve arrived at Nanaki Village.

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They soon determine that there’s nobody home, which is kind of strange to start. The village has been abandoned for at least a year. There’s no talk of food or lodging, just exploration in various random groups branching off from the whole.

Mitsumune had hoped to accompany Masaki, but he’s snagged by two other girls who seem to have plans for him. Speaking of plans, the sunglassed Yottsun seems to have unsavory ones for Masaki, and manages to end up alone with her. A strange shadow in the woods catches her eye, and that’s the last we see of either.

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Mitsumune, meanwhile, manages to ruin a potentially fun time with Maimai by congratulting himself on not getting so hot and bothered in her presence, which is a little insulting. Maimai then reveals she was only going to toy with him, but they’re interrupted by the sudden emergence of the bus driver from the woods.

Was the driver the shadow Masaki saw? And what did the driver see after everyone left him? Who sent Koharun the anonymous email telling her how to get to the village? And, of course, what happened to Yottsun and Masaki? Is this group only the latest of many who have inhabited this lost village, and have they suffered their first two losses?

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Mayoiga – 01 (First Impressions)

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Huh…Well, that was strange. My first taste of Spring 2016 had me riding along with no less than thirty passengers in various states of sanity on a seemingly dubious”Life Do-over” bus tour to the mysterious Nanaki Village, where they’ll presumably all start their lovely new lives.

The word “bizarre” came up in my head again and again as I was watching this. The characters, though we only get a line out of most of them, are bizarre. Their online aliases are bizarre. The pitch blackness of the world outside the bus is bizarre. The whole premise is bizarre.

Everything is so bizarre, I was not, after one episode, able to determine whether I actually liked all this bizarreness or not…but I do know I want to learn more.

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After everyone introduced themselves and their various reasons for being there (which, for many, included the various problems in their lives they’re trying to escape), the bus driver chimes in, almost as an audience surrogate, calling them nothing but a bunch of self-involved babies.

The ostensible MC Mitsumune is also intentionally normal and dull, at least on the outside; he has some very disturbing dreams that may or may not be related to his past…or his future. For all the introductions of all these people, we leave week one knowing next to nothing about them beyond their most outward personalities.

Mitsumune starts taking care of a little wounded baby bird of a young woman named Masaki, who seems to have some OCD to go along with her carsickness. Then there’s the cynical Hayato, who hasn’t come because he’s bought into what the operators are selling, but to find out the truth about Nanaki Village.

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So everyone here has their reasons for being on this bus. The driver’s reason is to make some money, and his frustration with the loonies he’s transporting almost provoke him into driving the bus off the road, but he regains his senses, and after one last stop, they reach the gloomy bridge to the village where everything is supposed to happen.

This episode creates far more questions than it answers, which is almost always a good way to entice an audience to stick around to learn more, bit by bit. Pitfalls may include a vast cast of characters, none of which we may end up caring about, and the hard-to-shake sense that the show and its mysteries aren’t as clever as they want to be.

We’ll see if Mayoiga can avoid or at least minimize those pitfalls. One thing it’s clearly got down is the overall creepy gloomy atmosphere suffused with that most dreaded of elements: the unknown.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 04

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It’s very appropriate that this week’s episode of Phantom World begins with a binge session at a restaurant, as it’s Restaurant Week here and I just got back from stuffing myself. The episode then transforms into an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of whimsy focused on the show’s resident eating champion, Izumi Reina.

After dinner, she splits from Haru and Mai and ends up boarding a very unusual bus that takes her…somewhere. Our first go-round with the process is very mysterious, because one minute she’s boarding the bus, the next, she’s outside the front gate of her house. The next morning, Koito (Hi Koito!) confesses to witnessing the whole thing, determining that Reina is possessed by a phantom.

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That assertion proves very true when Haruhiko boards the bus with Reina next time. She’s totally out of it, as if hypnotized, but he’s lucid as the bus transports them, in a sequence that (not accidentally) owes much to the train journey in Spirited Away, to another place; an idealized storybook home complete with adorable bunny caricatures of Reina’s parents (who are a lot stricter in real life.)

As is usually the case in scenarios such as this, eating the food is a bad idea, but Haruhiko realizes this too late, and grows his own bunny ears and a pastel texture to his character design that indicates he’s been “taken” by this place. He acts out Reina’s fantasy as his big brother, until the fantasy breaks and the two are back at the front of her real house, with her real father wanting to know who Haruhiko is. Reina sends him home, promising to explain everything later.

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Turns out Mai reminds Reina very strongly of her real big sister, who got tired of their parent’s tightassery and flew the coop. So after Haruhiko fails miserably in trying to sketch-seal the bus the next time (he’s still under the phantoms’ influence), Mai and Ruru board with Haruhiko and Reina, and end up in the fantasy world with them. Ruru, who is unaffected by the food, ends up accidentally gives Mai a taste, thus bewitching her too.

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It’s not until Haruhiko goes to the bathroom of all things, that he snaps out of it; I imagined the food he ate was the cause of the hypnosis, and when he shat it out, the effects dissipated. He refers to the bathroom as a portal between the real and unreal, or some such. In any case, he takes a chance and ends up successfully snapping Reina out of it by hugging her, a gesture that always elicits a reaction in the form of a martial arts throw.

Once she’s lucid, watching the still-bewitched Mai interact with her “phantom parents” Reina realizes the phantoms fed on her desire for her family to be whole again, creating a world where she could live happily ever after even without that sister.

When the phantoms tell her to make a choice, Haruhiko beseeches her to stay in the world in which she belongs, so she can be there if and when her sister returns home. Reina chooses to reject the phantom world and stay strong beside her senpais. All in all, a very lush, atmospheric episode with heavy Ghibli influence, which taught us a little more about Reina. Though we still don’t know where all that food she eats goes…

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 12 (Fin)

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Both this sequel series and its final episode share the title “insight”, meaning “the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.” Throughout much of the story, the public at large didn’t have much insight into anything beyond what they collectively felt they wanted in the moment.

Their growing enthusiasm with becoming one, fueled by Gelsadra’s brief rule and new ways of doing things, created a new enemy that no one saw coming until it was too late, due to their lack of insight into themselves. That enemy was the pervading atmosphere.

Everyone was to blame, but an individual was still needed to represent collective guilt and collective culpability; a bad guy who the Gatchamen would beat so badly, the atmosphere would become too terrifying for anyone to want to be a part of it any more.

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As Tsubasa explains to the public on the Milione Show, in the second phase of their plan, she says Hajime took that role. She used Berg-Katze’s power to become Gel-san, then told her G-men comrades to beat her mercilessly before a live nationwide audience.

Hajime was the ultimate hero of heroes in Gatchaman because he realizes her role in protecting the planet goes beyond simply saving whoever is right in front of her, but, when necessary, saving everyone from themselves, even if it means putting her life on the line. Rather than go with the flow or settle for quick votes and easy answers that feel good, Hajime thought, long and hard, about what she, Ichinose Hajime, could do.

Last week’s straightforward battle is thus place in a far different and more compelling context, with added dialogue that accentuates how conflicted the G-men really were about beating up “Gel-san”, because it was really Hajime. Yet again and again, she told them not to stop, until they literally cleaved her in two. As a result, she’s in a coma, and the sight of her on TV incites public rage against Gel-san.

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But Tsubasa implores everyone to follow Hajime’s example and think carefully about what is to be done about Gelsadra: Should they expel him from Earth, allow him to stay, or leave it up to the Gatchamen? Unlike all other previous votes, the people have a whole month to decide, and can change their votes as much as they want until the final tally.

As the days and weeks go by, anti-Gel-san sentiment goes from a boil to a simmer, as after longer and more thorough thought, everyone starts to take responsibility for what happened to the atmosphere rather than blame it all on Gel-san, who was, after all, only a naive facilitator with the very best intentions.

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When the vote comes, Tsubasa is relieved that not only do the people (by a narrow margin) agree to let Gel-san stay on Earth, but only a tiny sliver left it up to Gatchamen. Well over 90% of the population decided for themselves. To Suzuki Rizumu’s delight, the people evolved beyond the level of apes.

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After the vote, public opinion is driven a little less by what happens to be the flavor of the week, but greater intuitive understanding of the situation and their own individual power to shape their own opinion. X tells Rui to think long and hard about what to do about the Crowds, who play with the remaining, calm, Kuu-sama. The Prime Minister reminds his salty colleagues in the Diet that everyone was responsible for the atmospheric fiasco, and everyone is responsible for preventing it from happening again.

As for the savior who woke everyone up from their destructive bliss, Hajime does, thankfully, eventually wake up from her long slumber, without any fuss and grateful she slept so well. She’s clearly happy her big plan worked out, since so much of it depended on her fellow Gatchamen as well as the general public to make it a success.

Now, with the world more or less back to normal, the G-men await the next arrival of an alien who might, unwittingly or not, take a certain human quality to its most dangerous extreme. If that ever happens, I’ll be here to watch and cover it. GATCHA!

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 11

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As ‘Lil Gel-san chills at Gatcha HQ with Sugayama, the reunited Gatchamen do battle with the Kuu-sama…to no avail. While easy to defeat, the damn things keep coming, which makes sense, as they’re the granular embodiment of the collective atmosphere. Hajime stops fighting and determines they’ll need to try different tactics to get rid of it. But first, she and several other Gatchamen go on the Milione Show to receive the public’s blessing via smartphone vote. (OD also gets to meet his knockoff, DD).

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As soon as the public votes 84% to leave things to the Gatchamen, the Kuu-sama immediately cease their attacks and aggressive, and switch to fawning admiration for the Gatchamen. Such is the shifted mood of the people. But they’re still hanging around, to which Berg-Katze and Suzuki independently agree the only answer is to kill Gelsadra. So the Gatchamen deploy and start fighting him head-on.

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As we saw in his battle against Joe, Gel is one tough customer, but against the concerted forces of the Gatchamen he is eventually worn down. Only they’re not interested merely in wearing him down. In fact, the G-men make it a point to pummel Gel-san as mercilessly as possible, all while the public watches on streaming media. The Kuu-sama celebrate Gel-san’s imminent defeat, but then…the atmosphere starts to change again.

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People start to pity Gel-san’s treatment, and believe the G-men might be going a bit too far in taking him out. These peoples’ Kuu-samas pop like balloons one by one. Tsubasa tries to stop Sugane from a coup-de-grace, but after all the other assembled G-men salute, he fires off his attack anyway, which teleports through Tsubasa and slices Gel-san in half. Curiously absent in all of this is Hajime.

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The reason for her absence becomes clear a short time later, once the atmosphere has calmed and peace returned to the nation: she wasn’t absent. Utsutsu borrows the life force of her fellow G-men to heal a Sleeping Beauty-esque Hajime, while Tsubasa goes on the air to apologize to the people for deceiving them: Gel-san isn’t dead. They managed to get around the fact that only killing him could calm the atmosphere by “killing” a fake Gel-san, who Hajime posed as for the purposes of the operation.

Hajime understood that the atmosphere everyone had a hand in creating was far tougher opponent than Gel-san or the Kuu-sama, and defeating it would require more than brawn. They needed to convince the people that they were delivering swift and terrible justice to their fallen alien prime minister, and only when he was in smoldering pieces did they start to find such justice distasteful and prefer to move on to other things. I for one just hope Hajime didn’t have to pay for this victory with her own life.

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 09

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Considering episode 8 ended with a guy being eaten (or absorbed) by a Kuu-sama, and episode 10 started with the public reaction, I didn’t realize I had skipped an entire episode by accident until I was already through it. I also noted how quickly the plot progressed, leaving me to think the episode I missed was probably superfluous anyway. Boy, was I wrong!

This week, among many other things I missed out on, Hajime diagnoses Tsubasa’s problem: her resolve to run forward with everything she’s got can be both a strength and a liability. Like Tsubasa, I found out that it’s okay to stop and even go back to ensure you’re on the right path, not a path of convenience and expediency.

As a result of going back, I found episode 9 did more than simply fill in a few blanks; it further enriched the episode 10 I accidentally skipped to—itself a great episode.

For instance: I learned what led to Tsubasa no longer being by Gelsadra’s side, but returning home to Nagaoka. The public didn’t immediately react to the Kuu-sama’s “feedings” negatively; most people welcomed them being a “hammer of justice” as they punished those who committed crimes, be they petty or serious.

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Tsubasa can’t be on board with this, because she’s not a weird alien who uses cold logic to solve everything. She doesn’t see the point of becoming one if those who are hesitant are forced under pain of devouring. Paiman also condemns the acts of the Kuu-sama and hastily announces the Gatchamen will move to detain Prime Minister Gel-san, who is definitely somehow connected.

Paiman’s plan backfires, because he chooses a course of action before fully understanding what he’s up against: the Kuu-sama aren’t minions doing Gel-san’s bidding; they’re a side-effect of his weird-alien methods to unite everyone at any cost. They are of the people, not Gel-san, and as long as the pervading public opinion is of acceptance and contentment with Gel-san’s “regime”, both the Kuu-sama and the majority of the public will condemn the Gatchamen for attempting to disrupt the flow.

Hardcore supporters thus throw stuff at Paiman when he comes to arrest Gel-san; parents take their kids out of his day-care; Sugane’s harem dumps him. The Gatchamen find themselves unpopular; an eyesore to either be spurned, ignored, or, if they persist in their intervention, dealt with.

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The team regroups at HQ, where Hajime decodes Berg-Katze’s riddle: “everyone’s favorite thing that goes in easy but is difficult to get out” is a pervading atmosphere. Sugane says he’s had a lot of fun going with the flow, and wonders if it’s really that bad. And it isn’t, until you suddenly find yourself outside of it.

Hajime seems to take great pride out of being an outsider, whether you’re talking Gatchaman, alien vessel, or general space cadet. Even her hand gestures are subversive, sticking with the scissor fingers while everyone else puts their fingers together for the Ge-ru-ru Salute.

While trying to visit another fellow outsider in Rui, he doesn’t answer the door or his phone. His AI X-san, has to answer for him, worried about its master. At this point Hajime is accosted by numerous Kuu-sama, who are clearly telling not asking, that they become one. In her usual nonchalant-yet-badass tone, Hajime says “Yeah, I’d rather not,” successfully dodging the tongues.

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Then there’s the sustained action setpiece of this episode: the fight between Joe, who blames himself for Gel-san getting elected, and Gel-san, who doesn’t understand what Joe’s problem is, only that any attack directed at him will be countered in kind, and then some.

Joe is perhaps a bit foolhardy, but who would have thought Gel-san would be so adept at combat, be it dodging bullets on the ground or matching fire with wind up in the stratosphere. It’s a beautiful battle, all the more interesting because of Joe’s inability to gt through to Gel-san not because Gel’s bad or evil, but merely fundamentally wired differently as a living being.

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Back to Tsubasa. Feeling like the bottom’s fallen out of her world, she wanders an increasingly bleak city with ominously gathering clouds and scene after scene of independent-minded folk being bullied into going with the flow, and devoured if they don’t. The Kuu-sama even come after her. It’s all like some terrible nightmare, but then there’s a hand on her shoulder—it’s Hajime’s with an umbrella. And Hajime isn’t there to judge or say I told you so. She’s there to help and support her friend.

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Speaking of friends, Sugane cannot heed Joe’s warning to stay out of the fight, protecting Joe from Gel’s giant shiruken-like weapons, but getting stabbed in the back himself. Like Paiman with his premature arrest attempt, Jou’s attack only made things worse. Meanwhile, after a pep talk from Hajime (she’s all over the place wryly supporting people this episode!) X-san reaches out to Rui’s nemesis Suzuki Rizumu to try to rattle his cage. Rui is nearly catatonic in his bliss, sucking his thumb like the ape Suzuki warned him everyone would become in Gel-san’s world.

But it does rouse Suzuki to action, and he gets out of prison thanks to a VAPE member who is a guard, in order to “change the atmosphere.” Having gotten her Gatchabook back from Hajime, Tsubasa heads home, for a similar change of atmosphere, seeking wisdom from her gramps. And then, in the scene episode 10 starts with, we see one more example of the insidious danger of the Kuu-sama and their fundamental wrongness of their existence in society when a little girl simply can’t abide an older kid shrugging off a recently-devoured friend. Out of the mouths of babes indeed!

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 10

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When Mana’s father is swallowed up by a Kuu-sama, a former (current?) member of VAPE catches it on his cameraphone, forwarding it to Suzuki, who sends it out into the digital continuum, where it catches fire. I like how the means with which Gelsadra and Tsubasa united and consolidated the majority of society are the same means that prove their undoing. As with everything else, enhanced technology effects change much faster than more primative methods, but the door swings both ways.

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When the nation sees Mana’s father getting eaten, followed by a response by Gel-san that inadvertently sounds cold and uncaring, and a warning for those who don’t want to become one to get in line, Tsubasa is beside herself, unsure of what to do, leading her to sit with her grandpa and listen. I found Yuru-jii’s monologue to be a fine, stirring, cogent, unblinking look on Japanese history and society.

He’s seen this “atmosphere” before, and he was caught up in it, as was everyone around him, including his little brother: in WWII. “We lost ourselves, and fought against people we didn’t hate”, all out what was essentially a national inferiority complex. The atmosphere that led to war and the slaughter of millions just kinda snuck up on everyone, until it had become irreversible.

That atmopshere created an empire that would fight to the last man when faced with certain defeat. It took the first and only use of nuclear weapons against an enemy in human history to dissipate that atmosphere. Gatchaman’s sobering critique of the national psyche in the darkest years of Japan’s history stands in stark contrast to the glorification of the military in shows like KanColle and GATE, and I for one am glad shows like this are around to balance the discourse.

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The difference here is, the mood, and atmosphere, or kuuki, has been given physical form by Gelsadra, with the best of intentions, but ignorant to the world, its people, and their inherent desire to break from the crowd. He neutralized their wills, but he did not break them. And so, when word comes down the Kuu-sama are killers and Gel brought them about and is doing nothing to stop them, those very Kuu-sama reflect the changing mood, one of hatred and desire to bring Gel-san down.

I like how it’s Hajime who first comes to Gel’s aid against the amassing hordes of Kuu-sama. They may have physical form, but they can be disspated, or “popped” with the power of the Gatchamen. Gel-san also reassesses what he wants, from something as massive and ultimately impossible as uniting all of mankind as one, to something far simpler and more personal: wanting to see his dear friend Tsubasa.

So he exhales, releasing all of the mood bubbles in his belly and reverting to the form he took when he first landed…which is good news.

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Meanwhile, the Gatchamen muster and start taking out the Kuu-samas, lending a nice action angle to the episode. Rui breaks out of his funk thanks to X, into whom he inadvertently, but fortunately, programmed a sort of “Backup Will”, a fail-safe to rouse him from indolence should he get swept up in the fluffy bliss of belonging. X reminds him that he came up with her, and Crowds, and every other amazing accomplishment, when he was alone, not in the fetal position in the lap of a physical manifestation of the nation’s mood!

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Just as Gel-san exhaled to release the atmosphere, so too does Tsubasa, taking her grandpa’s advice to do some heavy breathing before setting off and joining Hajime and the other Gatchamen. She races to the city by transforming into an awesome hoverbike-thingy. Thanks to the events of this week, the apes are quickly evolving and thinking for themselves, but the residual caustic atmosphere must be purged in order to move forward. Everyone has to take a deeep breath.

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P.S. Yup, I accidentally totally skipped Episode 9. I’ll be watching that soon and writing a review later. Sorry about that!