Aho Girl – 11

This week Yoshiko intercepts Ruri lamenting another perfect “0”, and suggests that maybe studying and academics just aren’t in the cards for her…without suggesting what she should do instead. This leads Ruri to attempt to do a great many things—cooking, cleaning, riding a bike—and Ruri is terrible at all of them, which puts her into a state of depression no 11-year-old should have to deal with.

The next segment is one of the best in Aho Girl’s eclectic repertoire; when Ryuuichi helps Yoshiko try to find one of the last special banana frappuccino drinks in town, he is beaten up by toughs from “Dick High”. More importantly, they disrespect the bananas, which flips a switch in Yoshiko’s head from “Aho Girl” to “Badass One-Girl Wrecking Crew”. And every tough she defeats gets a banana in the kisser.

The final segment follows Dog when he gets loose from his chain. While trying to deliver a flower to Sayaka’s dog Pomi, he has to rescue a boy from the river, another boy from a car, and beat up some armed bank robbers, before finally giving the flower to a scared girl to brighter her spirits. Good Dog! Good Aho Girl, too…

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Aho Girl – 03

It’s a jam-packed Aho Girl with another not one or two or three but four separate stories, starting with a different opening in which the Disciplinary Committee President (DCP) slowly pans into the shot from the right leering at A-kun, until Yoshiko slowly pans in from the left.

From there, Yoshiko’s mom meets Sayaka, and is immediately suspicious she’ll steal A-kun from her daughter (and by extension, her). Thus she uses two pairs of handcuffs (she normally uses on her husband) and tries to get Sayaka to show them her panties, which will determine what kind of girl she is.

When A-kun threatens violence on Yoshiko and her mom, Sayaka surrenders, and when she finally reveals her panties to the women, they’re so white and pure Mom tells A-kun he’s free to be friends with her: she’s no threat.

Part Deux is another “kids in the playground” segment, with Yoshiko wanting to play and the kids preferring if she just studies, since she needs to get a job at some point. I will never tire of their mature, pragmatic banter.

Then a big white dog shows up—a huge white dog—and Yoshiko protects the little ‘uns…by attempting to ride him. There’s a poetry to her being dragged across the dirt telling the jaded kids to “hold fast to their dreams” as she holds fast to the dog, eventually ending up holding him in the air with her legs.

It’s a stray dog, so naturally Yoshiko intends to keep him, so she can keep riding him, and to the kids’ surprise, she seems to have trained him. The girl even calls Yoshiko “kinda amazing”, which immediately concerns her friends.

Following the dog rodeo, Yoshiko suddenly sounds a lot more bright and sophisticated when talking about her one true love of bananas. Her interest piqued by a bold upstart domestic banana farmer, Satou-san, and the taste is so good she bowls’ over backwards, revealing her panties once more.

The sophistocation quickly fades away when she proposes to run to Satou’s farm to meet him, and Sayaka must tag along…to the tune of 100km. Stopping to buy a drink, Sayaka very unwisely sends Yoshiko into a store that sells far more than just drinks, and the phrase “a fool and her money are soon parted” is elegantly yet devastatingly illustrated. The ugly, dull, expensive, yet not not adorable town mascots of “Middle of Nowhere” were a nice touch.

They finally reach the farm, and Yoshiko draws Satou into a perhaps not appropriate hug for an old man who is a complete stranger. Still, Yoshiko seems convinced she knows the man’s soul intimately after tasting his exquisite banana (that sounds wrong but it’s factually accurate). Then it’s up to Sayaka to get on all fours and beg for train fare home. I can’t blame her for not wanting to sprint another 100km home.

In Numero Quatro things get a little frisky and a little dark, as Yoshiko, seeing A-kun is down from not scoring a full 100 on any of his tests (say what you will about her, she’s good at nice round zeros), and decides to cheer him up…the same way her mom cheers her dad up some nights. Oh dear…

Yoshiko is truly an idiot, but she pays attention when she wants to, and was clearly taking very precise visual notes, judging from the attention to detail in which she handcuffs A-kun, talks to him like he’s a baby with an insufferably cutesy tone while stripping. A-kun is not, for a single moment, turned on by the display, and indeed, looks like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world. I’m sure Yoshiko’s mom would be sad to see him that way!

His sister, on the other hand, manages to walk in just after he’d gotten on his feet and delivered a tremendous knock-out drop kick to Yoshiko, and in the very moment he’s lifting her skirt with his teeth to fetch the key from her panties. Poor Ruri! On the one hand, she shouldn’t have to see that. On the other, well…Yoshiko really shouldn’t have to ever see her parents’ foreplay.

Aho Girl – 02

This week Aho Girl continued to deliver strong comedy bang for the buck, relying on a single, central premise (Yoshiko is an idiot) but applying that idiocy in a diverse array of unexpected ways.

First Yoshiko wanders off and plays with children, who think she’s cool until A-kun arrives to burst their bubble. It’s an act where Yoshiko exhibits her rare glimmers of brilliance (both in building a boss sand castle and lamenting that the kids’ hopes were already “lost and broken by modern society”, her failed swing attack makes deft use of both slapstick and observational comedy.

In another little dig at modern society, Yoshiko gradually convinces a rough-looking delinquent to stop pawing Sayaka and play with her, a “fellow idiot” instead, believing she sees him for what he really is: a sensitive, misunderstood young man just trying to make it in the world.

Turns out A-kun’s sister Ruri is also capable of scoring zeros on tests, but not for lack of studying, for which his high-scoring brother can’t hide his shame, and leads Ruri to tell him she hates him and latch onto Sayaka instead, who worries about the girl’s future.

Finally, A-kun has an admirer, and it’s the disciplinary committee president, who despite her button-down, strict manner, is concealing all manner of lewd and lascivious thoughts, especially when A-kun invites her (quite innocently) to search him (for contraband), which she takes to mean violate her regulations. She ends up banging her head on a locker trying to jump him, but promises “it isn’t over”.

Aho Girl – 01 (First Impressions)

Aho Girl or “Clueless Girl” is about all of the ways Hanabatake Yoshiko is an idiot, as seen from the perspective of her neighbor and long-suffering caretaker Akutsu Akuru. In under thirteen minutes of airtime, A-kun and others call her an idiot thirteen times and he assaults her a half-dozen more as punishment for being so idiotic.

If that sounds really one-note, it’s because it is. However this double act in which A-kun is the straight and Yoshiko is the foil sort of succeeds for two reasons: despite her idiocy Yoshiko has a great deal of performative range (thanks to her seiyu, a game Yuuki Aoi) and the bits and jokes are numerous and frequent, leaving scant time to stop and ask yourself why you’re watching.

Steins Gate – 03

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Rintarou: Then is this too, the choice of Steins Gate?
Kurisu: ‘Steins Gate?’
Daru: Something Okarin made up. It doesn’t really mean anything.
Kurisu: I’m sure. He’s mixing up his German and English.
Rintarou: …Take your shoes off!

It’s becoming more and more of a delight just to listen to Rintarou, Mayuri, Daru, and now Kurisu talk, particularly to each other. Just three episodes in and the voice actors are already like a finely-hewed ensemble, never missing a beat. I’m also loving the fact that, at this point, the title of the show is just gibberish Rintarou made up.

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Daru: Miss Makise? Miss Makise? Could you say, “Who’d eat a pervert’s banana, anyways?” once more, do you think? If possible, with an upset expression.

They get to play some jazz this time, as Kurisu invites herself in (she says she knocked), and makes a couple of snide remarks about the ‘lab’ and Japanese men. When she concludes she’s dealing with two perverts, they retort that it essentially takes one to know one, something she cannot dispute, flushed as she is.

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They eventually come to an agreement in which Kurisu (or “Christina”, or “Zombie”, or “Perverted Girl Genius”) will join the Future Gadget Lab as Member #004 (which really makes Mayushii’s day) and won’t sue the guys for sexual harassment in exchange for access to the phone microwave that’s turning bananas into green gel.

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With an accord reached, they get to work testing the microwave, thoughtlessly using Mayuri’s candy as a subject. When she opens the door to it before the experiment is complete (not wanting the food to burn), it causes an electrical surge that cracks the desk clean in two. Rintarou instinctively pulls Mayuri to the floor and shields her.

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The equipment is trashed, but with two concrete pieces of evidence—both the banana and his text messages about Kurisu’s stabbing—he’s ready to declare that what they’ve gone and made, quite by accident, is nothing less than a time machine, something that upsets Kurisu to the point she runs out of the lab, never to return to the episode.

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Talk turns to SERN and the Large Hadron Collider (it’s very nice how the show draws from real-world science, as Psycho-Pass drew from philosophy), the ominous Organization that John Titor said would ‘dominate the world’ in the 2030s, when he’s from. With their time machine in pieces and more proof needed, Rintarou directs Daru to hack into SERN to see if they can find any dirt.

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The seriousness of Okarin’s request is such that Daru is utterly distracted from the fact that Okarin is straight-up walking out on the bill. Let it be known that Rintarou is not utterly without skills; for one thing, he can slink away from financial responsibility like a boss.

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Outside the lab, Suzuha is goofing off with her bike, but accidentally overheard Rintarou and Daru’s talk about SERN. She even assumes Rintarou just got a text about ‘someone dying.’ Rather, he’s getting texts almost non-stop from Moeka, eager to get info on the rare PC, the IBN 5100, which Suzuha also knows about because she reads @channel. Suzuha’s timely arrival on Rintarou’s doorstep, along with her rapidly amassed knowledge of the situation, is contributing to her giving be a strange vibe.

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As Daru pulls an all-nighter attempting to hack into SERN as ordered, Rintarou hits @Chan, where ‘John Titor’ continues his lectures for anyone who will hear. Rintarou inserts himself in the discussion, and peaks Titor’s interest when he says there was another John Titor who arrived in 2000. World line shifts delete memories, he says, and yet Rintarou retains memories from another world line.

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To go off on a brief tangeant, I must say I’ve gotten used to the curious palette of Steins;Gate, in which most colors are extremely understated and low in saturation, while the sky is a deep, blazing cobalt blue quite different from the azure skies of our own world. It’s a small detail, but I felt it worth mentioning, since I’m sure the contrast between the deep dense sky and the comparatively washed-out world below was a very conscious aesthetic choice.

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Speaking of weird vibes: I didn’t just get them from Suzuha this week, but from Mayuri as well. She plays dumb all the time, but could that be an act? Did she intentionally sabotage the phone microwave at that crucial time for some reason? Is the staying close to Rintarou for reasons other than love or loyalty to a childhood friend? These are merely rhetorical questions based on random thoughts; no need to answer them.

Vibes aside, Rintarou and Mayuri still have adorable chemistry, best demonstrated by their little hot soup can content exchange negotiations on the roof.

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When they return to the lab, Daru has broken into SERN, though not with admin privileges. “Wow. I don’t understand, but wow,” Mayushii pointedly remarks. There, to everyone’s shock, most of all Rintarou’s, they find the ‘smoking gun’ he was hoping for: an email about how generating a miniature black hole with the LHC was successful, contradicting their public position.

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When they dig deeper into the “Z-Program Experiment Report 137”,  they find that the result of the experiment was “Error. Human is Dead, mismatch.” Now the Future Gadget Lab is really in the tall grass, where they’ll have to watch out for snakes.

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Steins Gate – 02

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We the audience are totally on board with the fact time has somehow shifted, and can fully appreciate how the presence of a suddenly-alive Makise Kurisu is a highly strange occurrence to Rintarou, and evidence of a very strange phenomenon afoot.

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However, Rintarou has a way of going about things precisely the wrong way, getting all up in Kurisu’s face and poking and prodding her like a test subject. If it wasn’t for Daru’s interceding, he would have likely ended up with a bloody nose at best or arrested at worst. Put simply: this exchange shows that Rintarou has a lot of work to do before he can start convincing people strange things are happening, and a lot of that is in the presentation.

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Total Defeat

When Kurisu is the one who ends up talking at the re-scheduled lecture, she starts in an undesirable direction for Rintarou: calling the very concept of time machines “foolish”. Rintarou rudely interrupts, but Kurisu is ready to take him down in a calculation-laced argument she dominates utterly, undercutting his credibility even more.

Here is a fellow scientific mind with published articles who would have possibly lent at least a half-open ear, had Rintarou simply interacted with her in a more civil manner. The message here is clear: whatever is going on, he’s the wrong messenger for it; he’s not ready for the big leagues.

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“But he’s a guy…”

Steins;Gate takenth away from Rintarou, but it also giveth, by introducing the very feminine Urushibara Ruka. Unlike Kurisu or even Daru, she’s fully invested in his Chuunibyou delusions, taking the 980-yen sword he ‘bestowed’ upon her and promising to swing it every day until she ‘awakens its power’. The only problem is Ruka isn’t a ‘she’ but a ‘he’.

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Whoa…that was an incredible hand-touch right there.

Ruka and Mayuri both seem to harbor romantic feelings for Rintarou, which explains their higher ‘tolerance’ for his tomfoolery. It also makes them biased in the eyes and minds of others, meaning they wouldn’t be taken any more seriously than Rintarou himself if they vouched for his story. More likely, Ruka and Mayuri would ‘believe’ what he said, but just like they ‘believe’ in everything else he says, out of a kind of obligation.

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Add Amane Suzuha to that list. While only the thinnest of love interests so far, she is a real-life girl of an age with Rintarou, who was just hired (as in, right in front of him in the shortest job interview ever) to help the landlord’s TV repair shop. Suzuha’s comments on ‘what’s popular these days’ and unfamiliarity with fresh produce suggest a certain precociousness that could make her another member of what I’ll call, for now, “Okarin’s Panel of Scientific Peers.”

They’re not like-minded for a multitude of reasons…but they do like his mind. Rintarou tossing her an ear of corn to Suzuha at the last minute demonstrates that for all his ranting and maniacal laughing, he can be a kind and affable fellow, not to mention fun.

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While on a Dr. Pepper-fueled all-night internet excavation, Rintarou confirms that the lecture was cancelled due to the satellite crash, that Kurisu was never stabbed, making him wonder if he simply hallucinated the whole thing.

Then things get stranger when he finds an “@chan” poster posing as his hero, John Titor, an alleged time traveller who arrived in 2000 and wrote several books expousing theories about “World Lines”, the infinite timelines one can travel through and manipulate with the proper means.

However, a Google search of “John Titor” brings up almost nothing, while his shelf of John Titor books is empty. The John Titor he knew simply doesn’t exist.

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The next morning, while on an intersection, he hears the clicks of a smartphone camera from a bespectacled lady, who retreats. He catches up to her and learns she’s documenting everywhere she’s been and everything she’s seen. My immediate impression is, ‘this lady is going through something like the same thing as Rintarou.” She also shows him an old-fashioned PC, and when he doesn’t recognize it, asks him if he knows who does.

Here, again, Rintarou shows his capacity to function not only as a normal member of society in spite of his apparently permanent Chuunibyou syndrome: instead of simply giving this random stranger Daru’s contact info, he acts as a go-between instead.

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He meets with Daru at the cat maid cafe where Mayuri works (wearing a blond wig) , along with another member of Rintarou’s ‘fan club’, “Feyris”, who is also fully-invested in an ongoing chuunibyou conversation about her training. Daru, for his part, curses RIntarou, apparently for inflicting such nonsense upon one of the girls at his preferred cat maid cafe. Yes, I’m aware of the irony in that statement.

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But I’m not sure Feyris is necessarily a ‘victim’ of Rintarou’s nonsense; she may have been into it before and is simply happy to have someone on the same ‘wavelength’. There’s also a certain portentousness to the message “The World’s In Danger!” written in ketchup on their omelette rice; as if Feyris is subconsciously attuned to matters she’s not conciously aware of yet.

In any case, Daru identifies the PC as an extremely rare and commercially unsuccessful early model that may not have actually ever existed, something he’s probably right about. Rintarou also gets an extremely florid text from the mysterious girl, one Kiryuu Moeka, and tells Daru to thank him for not exposing him to a potential nutcase. Yes, I’m aware of the irony in that statement, as well.

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Daru: Why would you think that?
Rintarou: It’s my intuition as a mad scientist.
Daru: So, no reason.

That’s the relationship of these two, in a nutshell, so far. Daru is willing to go along with all these strange inventions, but he reserves the right to provide skeptical/snarky commentary in the process.

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But when the banana (CLEARLY MARKED as the EXCLUSIVE PROPERTY of Mayushii, yet stolen anyway) they put in the newly-adjusted Phone Microwave (name subject to change), and it disappears, only to show up in green ‘gel-bana’ form, yet fully attached to the bunch, Rintarou suddenly gains a degree of credibility…even though he’s just as freaked out as Daru.

I’ll admit the first episode was a little awkward, but this one made great strides, efficiently introducing vibrant new faces, nudging forward the engrossing time travel mystery, and employing lots of witty banter that had be laughing a lot more than I was expecting.

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Steins Gate – 01

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Back in Spring of 2011 I missed the Steins;Gate boat, but its MAL score of 9.18 (presently good for second all-time) got my attention, and I’ve been meaning to give it a look for a while now. Look for occasional retro reviews this Winter.

I found the first episode of Steins;Gate a bit dizzying, temporally speaking, and a bit drab aesthetically, but what stood out as an immediate strength was is characters, starting with Okabe Rintarou, AKA “Hououin Kyouma”, AKA “Okarin”, AKA “Mad Scientist”, voiced with bawdy relish by Miyano Mamoru.

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That’s a lot of nicknames, but he gave two of them to himself, while Okarin is how his two friends usually address him. That self-appointing of nicknames is part in parcel of Rintarou’s apparent self-importance and intricate attention to self-image. His overly colorful, often paranoid rants point to severe chuunibyou despite the fact he’s college age. I also love the fact that he talks to himself on the phone without shame.

His cheerful childhood friend Shiina Mayuri, AKA “Mayushii” (Hanazawa Kana), is a nice foil, down-to-earth yet adorably air-headed, and also supportive in a ‘not sure what you’re saying Rintarou, but you got it, teehee!’ kind of way. She also calls herself Okarin’s “hostage”, a chuuni term she probably got from him.

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This opening episode not only introduces the core trio, but a fourth named Makise Kurisu who takes Rintarou aside and asks him what he was going to tell her fifteen minutes ago, even though he’s never met her and only knows her name from a science magazine.

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The show makes a strong statement when their innocuous first encounter is followed up by Rintarou discovering Makise in a pool of her own blood, stabbed to death. Even stranger, when he hits “send” on a text message reporting the stabbing, it seems to affect the very flow of time.

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When he bumps into Mayuri, she has no answers for him about what exactly happened and where all the people on the street went, but they’re interrupted by falling debris, after a goddamn satellite crashed into the very building where they just were to hear a lecture about time machines.

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After an OP that’s smack-dab in the middle of the episode, we find ourselves on the other end of a camera where Rintarou is introducing himself and his colleagues, including Hashida Itaru, or “Daru”, a hacker, otaku, and friend since high school, who seems to highly value comfort, convenience, and girls both 2D and 3D.

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After unsuccessfully trying to get their weird “Braun tube” TV fixed on the cheap by their brawny landlord (he charges two thousand), Rintarou and Mayuri enjoy the curiously de-saturated sunlight in the park. (Mayuri also gives Rintarou his second Dr. Pepper of the episode, which he (rightly!) proclaims to be “an intellectual drink, for the chosen ones.” Watching Mayuri gives him a glimpse of her looking upon a grave from god only knows what time.

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We also get a look at their “Future Gadget Research Laboratory” in Akiba…which kinda just looks suspiciously like a normal apartment, aside from strange inventions laying around. One of those inventions is the “Phone Microwave”, which is just what it sounds like, only it turns bananas green, soft, and slimy. Why they’re microwaving bananas in the first place isn’t explained.

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While running errands with Daru, Rintarou compares their cell phones and sees the text he sent about Makise’s stabbing which caused a time jump only he is aware of. Even more bizarre, the text he sent was broken up into three separate texts and sent to the past.

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And who should come into view when they alight from the elevator but Makise Kurisu, alive and well, if a bit pensive. Something very odd and most likely inadvertent is going on, having something to do with Rintarou’s weird inventions, and again, since even his two closest friends only take a fraction of what he says seriously, he’s probably going to have trouble talking about it without them laughing/shrugging it off as ‘Crazy Ol’ Okarin’.

But we know…as ridiculous as Rintarou can be, he’s not crazy…this stuff is going down, and it’s probably just the beginning. I am looking forward to where this ride takes us.

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