Hinamatsuri – 05 – I’m Totally Confused, But This Isn’t Prostitution

We begin with the very stark differences in Hina’s and Anzu’s everyday lives laid bare. Anzu learns cat’s cradle from a fellow homeless person, and is excited to show Hina so they can play together…but Hina only cares about video games.

Anzu has a good heart—perhaps too good for her own good—so rather than tell Hina to take her video games and get stuffed, she implements a scheme whereby she’ll find and sell used TVs she finds off the streets in order to afford video games with which to play with Hina.

Hilarity ensues, as Anzu first learns that CRT TVs are worth less than the dirt they’re sitting on, then learns that Hina and Hitomi are friends. Seeing the futility of searching the riverbank for LCD TVs, Hitomi asks her mom if she can have the one they’re replacing, only to get stopped by a cop for illegal dumping.

Meanwhile Hina makes herself useful (and demonstrates how clueless she is about…pretty much everything) by asking Nitta for cash to buy a new TV, then taking a 5900-yen taxi ride to the guy who buys the TVs…for 3000 yen. Hey, Anzu said she wanted TVs, right?

At the end of the night, Anzu spills the beans about wanting to afford video games to play with Hina (though it may well have fallen on deaf ears) while Nitta ends up very confused when Hina talks about selling the TV she just bought with his money to pay for cab fare. (A particularly standout exchange: Cabbie: “Where to?” Hina: “The river.”)

We then shift back to a Hitomi-centric segment, which is fine with me, as Hitomi is awesome. Two male classmates watch her enter the Little Song bar, and when Matsutani-sensei immediately follows her, they, with their adolescent brains, fear the worst: an illicit sexual relationship.

To that end, the boys start a “Matsutani Illicit Sexual Relationship Suspicion Task Force” made up of the two of them and Hitomi’s friend Aizawa, who thinks they’re full of it but recommends they recruit Hina—who has know idea what’s going on, and whose numerous pleas to know what’s going on go hilarious unanswered for the rest of the episode.

While initially skeptical, Hitomi’s ridiculous (and sometimes adorable) reactions to Aizawa’s probing convince her that something is amiss, but when it looks like she’s just messing with Hitomi to get those reactions, the boys split off (though they all have to take the same single staircase down).

After following Hitomi and Matsutani to the prep room and gaining no new intelligence, the four kids (Hina’s still there, but doesn’t know why) stake out the bar one night, and spot Hitomi entering, followed shortly by Nitta (who they regard as Hina’s dad).

Hitomi’s closest friend, Aizawa, decides to throw caution to the wind and rush into the bar, and the others follow shortly thereafter, where they catch Hitomi red-handed. However, after imagining the absolute worst that could be happening to her, Aizawa and the boys are actually relieved it’s just a matter of her being a middle school bartender.

With that, Aizawa forces Hitomi to repent for keeping them in the dark by declaring she is a middle school bartender, with the spirit of an idol introducing herself, which Hitomi does. This gets her the applause not only of her peers, but of Nitta and Utako as well. Hina, meanwhile, remains just plain confused.

Hinamatsuri – 04 – Unfit to be Homeless

“I’m disowning you.” Those are the three words that suddenly upend Hina’s cushy life at the top, after she upends nearly everything Nitta owns. While decent parents sometimes say things like that in moments when they might be nearing their limits, they never mean it.

Only Nitta doesn’t see himself as her parent, merely a caretaker of heretofore bottomless generosity and patience…and now that Hina has exhausted his supply of those qualities, she’s out.

To the show’s credit, he has a well-established good reason not to feel like her parent—she showed up in a metal egg!—but Nitta eventually learns it doesn’t really matter how bizarrely she entered his life, only that entering it changed that life forever.

Surely a part of Nitta buried by his anger in the moment immediately regretted kicking Hina off, because it knew just how useless she’d be in the real world after the cushy life she’s been used to since arriving.

That uselessness is demonstrated when she immediately spends 10,000 yen on junk food and plays video games until her battery runs out, then latches on to a concerned Anzu, whose limits are quickly tested.

Nitta’s lack of thinking his plan through is also exposed when Hitomi comes to his front door with printouts for Hina. And because Utako is such a good person, she works at a soup run in the park and discovers what Nitta has done. None of the people in the bar who judge Nitta know where she really came from, and that she’s no ordinary defenseless kid who you couldn’t dream of kicking out of your house.

When Nitta tries to defend himself and they run him out of the bar like the one kid all the other kids agreed was Bad News, he gets a harsh lesson in how unimportant details like what Hina is and where she comes from really are. By kicking Hina out, Nitta is a bad guy, at least in the world he wants to keep living in—a world of conscience, selflessness, and kindness.

Kicking her out means Nitta not only has his cushy apartment to himself, but his own world; even Sabu is not having it. Meanwhile, Anzu learns what it’s like to be Nitta, only in accelerated form, as Hina reaches her bike gang-coated friend’s limits and is kicked out after just three days.

Mind you, he’s right that Hina isn’t entirely hopeless. She does befriend some buskers and uses her telekinesis to pep up their show, and is able to make money on her own for the first time. Like the homeless people Anzu befriends, Hina is lucky not to end up with bad people who might to weird things, and even if they tried, she’s be more than capable of fighting them off.

Would Hina have been fine with the band indefinitely? In terms of money and food, perhaps, but where would she stay? And what if she hits the band’s limits like she did Nitta’s and Anzu’s? As Anzu tells Nitta when the two cross paths, Hina simply isn’t fit to be homeless, a devastating line to behold, in no small part due to its blinding accuracy.

But the main reason Hina wouldn’t make it out there is because she doesn’t want to. She liked being with Nitta the most, and so waits outside his door with a newly bought 2900-yen vase and a sincere apology. Nitta, having been banned from Utako’s bar until he makes up with Hina, makes up with Hina.

Yes, it’s a really nice bar, but also Nitta had reached a new limit: he’d gone as far as he could go without Hina, and vice versa, and so the two are back together, and he proudly displays her cheap vase beside the pricey ones, because like HIna, it doesn’t matter where it came from.

Hina’s expulsion from and eventual reinstatement in the good life takes up three-quarters of the episode; the balance is made up of another Hitomi portrait, cementing Hitomi’s role as without doubt the Best and most fascinating character on the show.

While Hina needs to learn the hard way the value of hard work, “half-assed” is not and has never been in Hitomi’s category. She knows she’s good at bartending, and continues to perform that job with pride. Not only can she mix drinks like an adult pro, but she’s now able to dispense advice and say just the words her customers need to hear, whether it’s Nitta’s superior or her own homeroom teacher.

Most importantly, her advice comes from her own experiences, which are numerous despite her modest age. She tells the yakuza boss that a bar is where you can come to be your honest self and not worry about their “real life” outside the door because that’s exactly what she’s doing.

And Hitomi won’t stop doing it, not just because she gets paid, but because she enjoys it, even on the weekends when she works through the night.

It’s in that exhausted state after an all-night shift that Hitomi comes upon Anzu in the alley, and learns that she collects cans. Hitomi, going all out in all things, directs Anzu to a windfall of cans (and gently blackmails a fellow bar employee to gain access to them. She learns fast).

Things get “heavy” in a hurry when Hitomi learns the extent of Anzu’s destitution, and feels bad about even eating the 200-yen ramen she’s offered, especially after learning Anzu usually makes 600 yen a day; the same amount Hina can make in a half-hour.

Suddenly confronted with someone living what appears to be a much tougher life with much smaller rewards weighs heavily on a Hitomi already physically taxed by her dual life. And so, during a protracted game of tag through the forest, Hitomi finally reaches her limit, and falls asleep standing up. If Hina is unfit to be homeless, Hitomi is unfit to be idle…or apathetic.

 

Hinamatsuri – 03 – Shaken AND Stirred

This week three of Hinamatsuri’s young women learn the value, rewards, and pitfalls of hard work from three very different vantage points, starting with Anzu. Anzu is unable to return to her mystery home, so she is homeless. She resorts to petty theft in Utako’s shopping district, but the constant chasing is getting exhausting, and one never knows when she might accidentally cut loose with her powers.

The hobo that once gave up her location to Sabu takes Anzu under his wing and shows her how to make honest money to pay for food. It’s a lot of work for a pittance, and even when she and Yassan show up to the hobo camp with sake to share, the mostly old men there treat her like crap…until she sings them an old nostalgic song that brings many of them to tears.

Anzu is rewarded with a canned drink and membership into the tribe, with all the benefits that entails. But the next day it’s back to the drudgery of searching for stray coins and collecting cans, during which time she runs into Nitta. Seeing her situation and seeing through her half-hearted explanations, Nitta assumes the worst and attempts to solve it with money.

The same stubborn pride that keeps Anzu on the streets also makes her angry at the handout, and she throws the 40,000 yen back in his face. However, when she remembers the hobos talking about how steel and aluminum price drops will cut deeply into their haul, she swallows her pride, chases Nitta’s car down, and accepts his gift.

When she’s immediately surrounded by Usako and the other proprietors she stole from, she loses more than 39,000 of it as repayment, and returns to camp dejected and ashamed. But Yassan assures her it’s for the best: she’s no longer wanted for theft; she has a fresh start as a “homeless girl.” If she keeps working hard as she can (and accepts gifts like Nitta’s when they come), she’ll be able to survive, as they have. Without using her powers.

Next we move on to Mishima Hitomi, who already knows the value of hard work and has applied it to studying, resulting in her position as top student in class, a position she takes great pride in. However, after her impromptu go at bartending last week, Utako wants her to keep working there, and is willing to blackmail her with an incriminating photo to make it happen.

Hitomi counters with a recording of Utako blackmailing her, and Utako takes a different tack, suggesting they both delete their data on each other…but Utako had already downloaded the photo to her PC, so it’s Game, Set, and Match Utako: Hitomi starts working at her bar for 1,500 yen an hour. She is a hit, not because she’s a middle schooler, but because she’s just too damn good at mixing drinks.

Just as at school, she works hard, takes no shortcuts, and comes to take great pride in her good work at the bar. But her two world collide when her homeroom teacher comes into the bar with the vice principal (who is already drunk), trying to nab the position of head teacher.

The teacher is not drunk, and quickly recognizes Hitomi, but decides its in both their best interests to keep the secret to himself. But he still doesn’t let Hitomi off the hook: as something of a mixology aficionado, he challenges Hitomi to make him a Million Dollar, and then a Bartender, to test her shaking and stirring skills. Hitomi passes with flying colors, and he’s duly impressed in her skills, as Usako and the other patrons knew he would be.

While a misunderstanding and her own passivity got her into the job to start, and she was blackmailed into continuing it, her natural talent for the job keeps her coming back…and the mad stacks she’s depositing into the bank account her parents don’t know about don’t hurt one bit! Not only that you watch Hitomi work behind the bar, you can tell she’s in her happy place.

Anzu expanded her world by transitioning from theft to a modest but honest living, while Hitomi expanded hers by adding paid labor to a repertoire that had once been unpaid study, though that will pay off when she needs to get in a good high school and college. And because she’s making so much bank, she needn’t worry about burdening her folks with tuition.

That brings us to the young woman at the top of the social ladder, simply by having her egg land in a rich yakuza’s apartment and that yakuza having a heart of gold…in other words, privilege and luck. Though she may have helped Nitta out off-camera, since the first episode she hasn’t really worked. Having seen Anzu surviving on the streets, Nitta wonders out loud why Hina couldn’t try to do the same thing (is he half-joking? quarter-joking?)

Hina gets the message, and after a frightening dream in which she’s filthy and destitute on the street while Nitta walks past with a glamorous Anzu on his arm, Hina adopts a more genial and eager-to-please attitude that understandably throws him off. When he goes off to work late, she attempts to work hard so he won’t throw her out.

But unlike Anzu and Hitomi, Hina’s hard work ends up working against her goals, not towards them, while her attempt to expand her skills through various household chores ends in one huge mess after another. Her comedy of errors, while predictable, is nonetheless cleverly depicted. I especially liked her attempt to air out a blanket, only for it to fly away into the Tokyo cityscape like a  magic carpet.

Worse, when things get messy, Hina simply gives up and moves on to the next chore, and when she finds a bowl of ikura in the fridge marked “rewards for Hina” she unilaterally decides she’s worked hard enough to give herself the reward.

Fittingly, as Nitta tells his associates, it’s been so long since Hina has done anything to earn a reward, the ikura in the fridge has gone bad, something Hina’s stomach suddenly realizes while she has every dish in the house levitating and dripping soapy water all over the hardwood floors. The dishes shatter, she goes down, and Nitta, who was impressed by how nice she was being before he left, is poised for a rude surprise.

Basically, Hina could learn a lot from Anzu and Hitomi about the importance of being competent at the hard work you are attempting. She did it before with the forestry (and the raid of Nitta’s rivals); she can do it again. She just needs more practice! Ultimately, everyone, even Hina, wants to feel needed, and to strike a proper balance between taking and giving.

Hinamatsuri – 02 – Savin’ the Nation, then Hittin’ the Clubs

When another telekinetic middle school-aged girl suddenly appears naked in the street at night, then promptly dispatches the entire bike gang whose path she barred, it occurred to me we could get a new super-powered egg brat every week. It also occurred to me that might be too many brats, but this episode would come to allay my fears.

This latest one, Anzu, is not only a problem because she didn’t materialize in the apartment of one a mild-mannered and reasonable yakuza, but because she is on a specific mission to find and eliminate Hina.

All Anzu says its that it’s “orders from the brass”, but the less we know about where Hina and Anzu come from, the better, I say. The whys and wherefores aren’t necessary; just the fact that they’re here, and Nitta has to deal with it in a responsible way.

Nitta first hears about a little girl taking out the bike gang from his subordinate Sabu, but it isn’t long before she’s at the same ramen shop trying to dine and dash. Nitta pays for her, again placing the responsibility for an extremely powerful and dangerous being on his admittedly broad shoulders.

Nitta realizes that by treating the arrival of Hina the way he has, he may well have saved the nation, a fact he casually remarks to Sabu (who can’t possibly know what he’s talking about). He doesn’t shrink from his duty to save it again, this time from a potentially cataclysmic battle between two unchecked adolescent espers.

Once he gets a tip about Anzu’s position from Sabu via the network of homeless they pay to keep their eyes and ears open, he brings Anzu and Hina together, but gets Anzu to agree to a game of “look-that-way” rock-paper-scissors, with the two using their powers to try to make the other look in a certain direction.

Not only does the execution of this plan eliminate the threat of cataclysm, it also results in some seriously hilarious faces from Hina and Anzu as they try to force-pull each others faces up, down, and to the side.

Ultimately, Hina defeats a frustrated Anzu with ease, but when Anzu realizes how much Hina has changed since they last met (she talks and everything!), she decides it’s enough to take a lock of her hair and tell the bosses that the deed is done.

Hina, in turn, invites Anzu to hang out a bit before she returns home (wherever that is; I don’t want to know). After some video games, dinner, and a load of laundry, Hina and Nitta send Anzu on her way…only for her red ball teleporter thingy to not function because it was in the wash, leaving Anzu stranded and homeless (again). Maybe this time gangs will keep a wider berth.

While this leaves open the possibility Hina and Anzu will cross paths again, and I wouldn’t mind such crossings, she doesn’t wear out her welcome here, and isn’t present in the episode’s second half, in which Nitta realizes that ever since he took in Hina, he’s been off his Game.

His bartender/occasional date Utako thinks he’s joking when he asks her out with Hina sitting nearby; his usual girls at the girly club have heard rumors he’s put his Don Juaning on hold in order to lavish time, love, attention and money on his “daughter.” Nitta is appalled. He’s got to get his game back.

He does so in a less-than-subtle way, essentially ripping the time-consuming Hina off like a band-aid, leaving her alone in the apartment with a cold can of mackerel while he hits the bar or club or goes out on dates. Hina finds the mackerel novel and tasty at first, but soon it gets old and tedious, and she doesn’t like the loneliness.

Hina decides to take matters into her own hands, first by insisting she get to go out with him (resulting in a hilarious chase in which she’s waiting for him on the subway at the end, and he lets the doors close without getting in) to enlisting the aid of her too-nice-for-her-own-good classmate Hitomi. Hina learned from TV it’s better to use more than one person to follow someone, but she promptly ditches Hitomi at Utako’s bar, which is closed.

There’s a distinct feeling of not belonging in such an adult place, yet when one of the regular lushes lumbers in to tie one on, he’s no so much confused as delighted that the new barkeep is so young. He doesn’t even mind she doesn’t know how to make a highball; he’ll teach her.

And thus Hitomi, who as I said is way too nice to turn down an old drunk man’s offer to teach her how to make cocktails for him, ends up tending bar all night. When Nitta finally shows up, she’s relieved, but when she calls him Hina’s “dad” he gets upset and becomes another customer (rather than rescuing her).

Meanwhile, Utako ends up crossing paths with Hina, and tells her Nitta won’t understand what she wants unless she tells him straight up. It’s a great little playground scene that’s made more “Hinamatsuri-ish” by the fact Hina levitates off the swing and does a few lazy flips in the air while Utako is dispensing advice.

By the time Utako and Hina get to the bar, Hitomi has, just, like, become a bartender. I didn’t think I’d ever come across an anime not only in which a middle schooler is ditched in a closed bar, but accidentally becomes a thoroughly competent bartender over the course of an evening, without even particularly wanting to! It is ludicrous and amazing.

And there, to a somewhat sloshed Nitta, Hina tells him straight-up what she wants: to go to a girly club with him. In’s an odd request, but Nitta gives in to the booze-lubricated mood of the room and agrees.

But rather than just Nitta and Hina, everyone comes along: Utako closes the bar and comes, the regular drunk comes, a comple random salarymen come…and Hitomi comes too. The increasingly drunk Nitta even lets Hina levitate a bottle of champagne over a tower of glasses (even though such a service has to be specially ordered).

Finally, Hitomi gets a call from her worried-sick mother, who doesn’t believe her for a second when she tells the truth about where she is so late at night. The question Hitomi wants answered is why is she there. I can think of two main reasons: Hina, and passivity.

In the morning Nitta wakes up on the couch, in his boxers, with a hangover, an invoice for 2.5 million yen ($23,000) and a Hina eager to go out that night and do it all over again. Nitta pumps the brakes; from that day until further notice it will be a frugal household. Break out the mackerel!

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 02

Our introduction to this new Fate world and story continues with a classic Shaft-type episode that is dense in conversation and exposition, but festooned with lavish trappings that befit a story of this scope. F/ELE (as I’ll be calling it for brevity’s sake) has a lot that is familiar to fans of Fate, fans of Shaft, and fans of both such as myself.

Indeed, the manner in which Kishinami Hakuno summons Saber when he is on death’s door is essentially a reversal of Araragi Koyomi’s first meeting and rescue of Kiss-Shot, another blonde of legendary status, in Kizumonogatari. And while Hakuno is so far a walking bag of virtues, this new-look Saber, voiced by all-star seiyu Tange Sakura, is a lot of fun to watch.

We also get a Nisemonogatari-esque bath scene, not just in any bath, but a sprawling, elaborate Roman-style mixed bath strewn with rose petals. It’s hardly a Shinbo production without such a bath, where a young man and a young woman talk business utterly unfazed by the fact they’re both stark nakked.

When they arrive at the first level, which Saber believes will be the first battlefield of the next Holy Grail War, she is surprised to find a bustling metropolis that, far from being ravaged by war, is united in celebration. At first Saber doesn’t mind this twist at all, and soaks it all in, and we learn that while Tange’s Cardcaptor Sakura says “ho’e,” her Saber says “umu.”

They visit an empty bar occupied by only one, somewhat suspicious woman with pink hair dressed as a bartender. When Saber presents herself as a foe and bids her chosen opponent defend herself, the lady scoffs; surely Saber jests. There is no Holy Grail War here, she says; the Masters have sold off their Servants to live in eternal happiness and peace; that’s what’s being celebrated.

Both Saber and Hakuno seem a bit disappointed by this news, but also somewhat skeptical. When seven splendidly uniformed policewomen arrive, surround the pair, and ask them to accompany them to the Mayor’s office, Saber may gush about how pretty they look, but just as with her outwardly carefree soaking in of the city, Saber is likely staying on her guard and gathering information as if there were a war in progress, which is as it should be.

As they’re escorted to the Central Tower and ride its super-fancy elevator to the top, Hakuno starts to remember some of what happened before he arrived here. Saber said his memory would start to return upon becoming a Master, and his vision of a pile of dead classmates serve to remind him of what had to be done to get this far.

However, the mayor—who turns out to be Matou Shinji, appearing before the pair as a hologram—would prefer if they go no farther. After waxing poetic about the benefits of the AI and NPC-rich Utopia he’s helped build (and performing the Shaft Head Tilt), he finally brings up the price of all this happiness. Citizenship requires all Masters to sell off their Servants.

Naturally, Hakuno refuses, and Shinji stops playing nice, reveally he had physically isolated Saber some time ago with his suite of high-tech digital smoke and mirrors, and sics not one or two but three nasty-looking Berserkers upon Saber. She seems to relish a fight at last, as I did, but at the same time she doesn’t seem that impressed by her foes.

Meanwhile, Shinji’s sexy police all stab Hakuno with their swords. For defying the order of things, the plan is to use Saber as a power source as other Servants have been used, and for Hakuno to simply die.

Only Hakuno didn’t get the right script, and refuses to let a few impalings bring him down. To his attackers’ shock, he pulls out their swords one by one and then seemingly powers-up/transforms, a phenomenon Toosaka Rin senses from the top of a building elsewhere in the city.

Rin calls it “Dead Face.” Whatever that is, it’s clear Hakuno isn’t there to celebrate, or live comfortably, or die. He is there to fight.

Death Parade – 12 (Fin)

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Death Parade ends its long march with an emotional, twisty, judgement of Chiyuki. It is far from a wartless affair, as the Oculus vs Nona subplot remains weightless and basically unexplained, but it was a solid outing.

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To summarize: Oculus and Nona… don’t actually fight. Instead, Oculus info dumps us that Arbiters are built using the discarded dummies (and souls?) of the judged who are thrown into the void and that this means…

well its really not clear what this means but Nona is dead set on getting souls (or soul-like contents) into the Arbitors to shake things up.

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Meanwhile, Decim puts Chiyuki through a similar ruse to what Ginti did last week. Here, he pretends they have returned to the living world and shows Chiyuki her grieving mother, an empty house, and offers her a button to press that will return her to life…

at the cost of someone else’s life! While Chiyuki doesn’t realize this is a trap, she still ultimately makes the moral decision, based in no small part on her experiences with other souls and Decim is brought to tears. Then he reincarnates her, learns to smile, and leaves her dummy-body on a chair next to the bar.

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What worked: While I thought Decim’s trap was obvious, it was a nice mirror of Ginti’s all the same.

And trap aside, seeing Chiyuki’s mom and her anguish was emotionally resonant. This was a major feels episode and, for once, it didn’t feel contrived and cheap in the delivery.

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What didn’t work: any second spent without Chiyuki and Decim on screen. Oculus’ objection to Nona, the lack of coherent reasoning for Nona’s agenda, and the complete lack of a conflict between them just zap the subplot’s strength.

It never got meaningful development and, like the ‘people are dying too quickly’ the fuzziness of it all felt more annoying than apetite-wetting for more. Really, beyond Decim learning to smile and possibly becoming a better ‘person’ nothing feels consequential at all.

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So I have mixed feelings about this series. If not obvious from all of my reviews, I greatly respect Death Parade’s sense of style and that it is, to some degree, a show that took risks. When it tried, it was good at making me feel for its characters too.

That said, I found it highly predictable and muddled. The secondary conflict, which should explain what and why Decim is, never manifests and Chiyuki is not very interesting after you strip away her sex appeal.

Certainly not one for the heritage list by any event but a nice, mostly pleasant show. Probably worth a binge if you didn’t catch it and have time at some future point.

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Death Parade – 11

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Death Parade scores its first perfect 10 with Chiyuki’s wondrous ice skating scene, which combines the series’ trademark beauty with enchanting music, top notch animation, and wordless story telling. What’s more, Nona and Oculus finally come to a clash and Ginti’s judgement of Mayu (and Harada?!) comes to a dramatic close.

I dare say, Mayu’s sub-plot nearly steals the spotlight. It’s brutal, emotional, and mind bending that DP’s creators did more with it as a side story, spread over so few episodes, than their master-plot in 11.

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Why was Mayu’s plot so effective? In a nutshell, Mayu is a simpler, yet more rounded character than Chiyuki and the smaller, but more clearly defined plot around her has more obvious stakes.

Mayu loves Harada, and owes much of her life’s inspiration to him. More importantly, after death (and their failed judgement) Harada increases Mayu’s devotion by revealing that her letters did reach him and that he was inspired by her.

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So we understand the characters’ connections and feel the burden when Ginti offers Mayu a choice: if Mayu chooses to send another soul to the void, Harada’s soul will return with her in reincarnation.

It’s obviously a trap, and even Mayu knows her decision will be wrong (morally) but what elevates the plot from trivial side-tragedy to masterpiece, is how the mean-spirited Ginti’s hell-vision of the void proves so wrong.

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Plummeting down the elevator, sensing that she’s been betrayed, Mayu embraces Harada. Then his eyes open, they embrace, and their skin/souls are wrapped apart in a final instant.

The implication is clear: they will never return to being, Mayu and Harada end eternally together. And the arbiters clearly know nothing at all about what is going on…

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Meanwhile, Chiyuki’s backstory is revealed in flashes while she skates Quindecim’s new ice rink. It’s simple but has to be so since it is delivered without dialog: her love of skating began when her mother read Chavvo, continued through school and eventually lead to a professional career… but abruptly ended with an injury and eventual suicide.

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The slightly silly reason Chiyuki eventually gives Decim for killing herself, which relates to the impossibility of people understanding one another, is thankfully besides the point.

Yes, I get that it ties her life directly into the greater Chavvo plot, but the real point is that her life makes Decim think, and that the length of time they are together and the amount of questioning she does, makes him think harder about what is going on.

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And Decim thinks that judgement, like life, needs to include the living (or at least the lived) lest it be hollow. Then he offers Chiyuki a final drink…

and slips her a mickey.

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I don’t know where this is going next week but I love it as an unexpected twist.

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If I had any gripes at all this week, it’s the Nona/Quin/Oculus plot. Rather, I don’t think the plot has enough build up to make for an engaging conflict over-which Decim and Chiyuki’s love must triumph next week.

But that’s next week and I can’t hold that against this week. This week was emotional resonant for four characters, illustrative of the differences between soul-less and soul-enabled Arbitors, advanced the master plot, tied up a side plot, and was lovely lovey lovely to hear and look at.

Show not tell for the win!

Death Parade – 10

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DP10 was a pleasant up-swing in my ongoing like/shrug relationship with the show. Like Ginti’s ep a few weeks ago, this week had a pleasant mood, which contrasted the obvious overtones of death nicely.

More importantly, episode 10 “got on with it,” developed it’s main characters and put the final conflicts in place.

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To sum up: we start with Decim’s birth, which is essentially identical to Shadow’s empty awakening in episode 2, which is a great scene-to-character parallel because we almost immediately transition to Shadow who is dying in the present. She’s literally falling apart, skin flaking away from the mannequin her soul possesses.

As Decim’s eye life twitch indicated last week, it’s time to judge her and even if Shadow weren’t about to go on her own, Nona won’t let him delay any longer. Also, elevator-kun is tactfully hidden in the background where only we, the viewers, can see him, thus setting up his eventual use as a spy for Oculus but hey… for all my criticism of DP’s obviousness use of false subtlety, at least it makes the attempt.

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Judgement buddies: Shadow and died-of-old-age super-nice grandma that never had kids but instead became a children’s book illustrator Uemura Sachiko sit down for a friendly game of Old Maid. In a smile-endusing twist, Old Maid requires three players and so Decim gets to join them.

The very concept of the scene is nicely pleasant. Decim doesn’t just get to judge — and get to judge without torture — he gets to be with Shadow at the end of her time. Its a nice shared moment and, because Sachiko had a fulfilled life and loves the little details of Decim’s life-moment-based Old Maid cards, no drama distracts us from sharing that bitter sweet moment with them.

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Also we get little glimpses of Decim and Shadow’s life moments on his cards. Decim’s are the empty icons we see him use everyday — a shaker, martini glasses and mannequins — and Shadow’s cards have the the picture book pictures… which Sachiko recognizes.

So the children’s book itself becomes a parallel to Shadow’s plight, and of judgement in general. Sachiko notes that Chavvo, the mute girl in the story, has to rely on something other than words to communicate her intent — her emotions. This is the case for judgements, which can’t rely on a person’s words, and probably a point that will come up next episode and/or be the basis for judgement reform … but that’s hopping ahead and speculation.

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It could also be a statement about Decim, who isn’t mute but ‘can’t hear’ what people mean, because he has no emotions.

Regardless, Shadow remembers her mother reading the book and that her name is Chiyuki, but I won’t call her that because I like typing Shadow more. Then Oculus drains elevator-kun of memory and learns that Nona put human emotions into Decim. Then Oculus is upset.

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My only criticism in all of this is somewhat trivial. Oculus may be a dull, 11th hour villain of sorts to have shoe-horned into a story that didn’t need a villain in the first place. However, I’m slightly more annoyed that Elevator-kun has been spying in the first place.

I mean, it’s not like he has any motivation to be doing that. He doesn’t have human emotions, like all the rest, and he’s pretty obvious about it… so why everyone ignores him so he can spy is weird too.

I just don’t see either plot, or character, as adding anything to the story. Nona herself has barely added to the story but at least she’s _done_ something in the story within the first 11 episodes…

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At this point, you can probably guess that I enjoyed the episode. It wasn’t flawless but the core aesthetic was appealing but also the tone and plot provided contrast to lighten everything. The result was delightfully not boring.

9_ogk

Death Parade – 09

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6_ogk

Verdict: despite Death Parade’s pretty looks, this week’s conclusion to the “Killers” two-parter was so melodramatically over the top that it lost all emotional resonance. What’s more, the binary nature of judgement continues to make the show feel predictable, even when it legitimately throws in a surprise.

To summarize: Shimada and Detective Tatsumi are both wrathful people and both successfully avenge their loved ones — through murder — before dying and they remain twisted after the fact. Shimada maybe less so but they are both doomed to the void.

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Because it’s presented slightly out of chronological order, their sequence of events are actually somewhat complicated to follow. Tatsumi kills his target first and becomes a vigilante killer for some period of time before Shimada hunts down and kill’s his sisters attacker. As I suspected last week, Shimada then kills Tatsumi, who he believes to be working with the original victim.

The twist is, Tatsumi is somewhat responsible for Shimada’s sister’s attack. Rather, he witnessed it and did nothing to help her because a vigilante can’t kill if there are no victims. So, in a way, Shimada gets the true karmic revenge, even though he doesn’t realize it while he’s living.

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Speaking of Shimada, his death completely missed me on my first viewing. I do bare some blame for this, but it isn’t very clear that his victim has landed a mortal wound. Shimada does go to the bathroom and cry/choke a bit that just read as emotional murder-guilt to me and, unlike Tatsumi, he doesn’t get a twitch-twtich moment of framing.

Combined with the knife in his duffle bag, which remains unexplained and unique to this episode (no other guest has brought a possession with them and we know guests aren’t even in their physical bodies) I was initially very irritated with the show for breaking its world rules. I’m still irritated but, to be fair, I can live with the unexplained knife more than I could with Shimada’s unexplained death.

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Air Hockey aside, there was a lot of emotional yelling, cool dude turing his back on a weak bro, and the dread ‘I’m emotionally unstable smile face.’ Throw in Shadow’s emotional freak-out over Shimada probably cursing himself to the void and it all felt too over the top.

What’s my criticism exactly? Death Parade is a gothy show but, when it works well, it goes beyond that particular cliche to bring us real people with real, nuanced emotions who just happen to be in a gothy setting. This week was just gothy characters in a gothy setting. No juxtaposition and maximum adolescent melodrama.

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If I had to speculate on the episode’s true intent, I would assume that it sets Shadow up for judgement next week. It’s obvious that Decim can’t keep her around (not if she’s going to get physically entangled over his methods) and it’s obvious that her rant about humans being simpler than he thinks connected to him.

His eyelid crinkled at least.

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The trouble is, I’m not sure I care? Shadow is equal parts mystery and bland ‘nice girl.’ When you strip away her hot-gothy-looks, and the mood of the show, she isn’t anything more than that.

Maybe, as a 34 year old who was a goth 16 years ago, I look back at this genre as silly and juvenile? Maybe I want this episode to be more than it is, more like the last 5 episodes that I thought were quality story telling regardless of mood or genre?

Death Parade – 08

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After 3 weeks, Death Parade finally returns to its “Decim & Shadow judge people via death game mini-mystery” formula. This week’s twist is that ‘someone’ is a killer, and that Shadow is also allowed to see the memory-stream that helps Arbiters make a judgement.

It was also a two parter… (warning: Spoilers ahead)

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This week’s judgement duo are: Detective Tatsumi and Shimada. Tatsumi is the obvious killer red herring, as he’s a grizzled cop and poor Shimada is such an empathetic looking guy.

And Death Parade honestly scores points by playing off our expectations of a red herring, because Shimada immediately shows us that he has a bloody knife in his duffle bag but it turns out they are both killers. It doesn’t score many points because we learn this via shadow seeing them as killers in the memory stream at the cliff hanger point, but it scores points all the same.

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So they play air hockey and it is very good looking setting, as usual. However, despite having organs drawn on each puck, Decim doesn’t force them to feel pain and anguish until late in the episode. Actually, despite the speed of air hocky, it’s a very slow episode in general.

Torture aside, we learn that Tatsumi’s wife was murdered, possibly by a con he put away, and that he dedicated the rest of his sad life to revenge. Similarly, Shimada, an orphan and hard working brother, has a sister who was brutalized by a stalker that the police didn’t stop and swore revenge against who ever that was.

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So, if I had to guess, they actually killed each other but that may not be the case. At least, it doesn’t entirely look that way in Shadow’s flash of the memory feed. I kinda don’t care though, since I know they are both dead and the only consequence is void or reincarnation, which has never really mattered much to me.

Which leaves Shadow’s growth from the experience, and the continued unraveling of her personal mystery.

dp806Now… why and how does Shimada have a knife in a bag if he isn’t even physically real? We know the souls are injected into dummies and dressed in the elevator…

Verdict: if not for it’s looks, I would probably give this episode a 7. The slow pace, intentional or not, didn’t feel earned by the late-episode reveals and is straight up eye rolling as a two parter. Yes, I get it. Shimada v Tatsms judgement isn’t really the story here. But if Shadow’s response to killers, and her first dive into death memory exposure, is the point, there were better, more active ways to go about it.

Death Parade, you are damn lucky you were born pretty!

8_ogk

Death Parade – 07

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Death Paradethrew me this week. Not because anything was wrong with it. We learned plenty of world-building details, met 1.5 new characters, and came to understand Decim just a sliver more.

More over, all of it was interesting in a way that ‘stuff just happened’ never is. However, I don’t know what to make of it, beyond the surface level of the show’s mystery.

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The bullet points: Oculus and Nona confirm that Arbiters are just dolls (albeit complicated ones) but that Decim is different. Decim has human emotions. Maybe.

Meanwhile, Shadow finds a physical copy of her creepy children and suffers snippets of memory. None of it makes sense to us yet, but that’s not really important because the episode is mostly about Decim!

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And Decim is all about Flash Back Time! Specifically, about his final test as an Arbiter, where he watched Dequim’s previous Arbiter (Quin) judge a couple over pool with Ginti but, unlike the vindictive Ginti, never pressed the ‘screw you’ button on his magic wand.

He was too interested in what the humans were thinking to bother, although he doesn’t actually know what they were thinking due to his lack of experience. In the end, he resolves to keep the ‘Dolls’ left behind by the people he finds interesting. Yes! the guests all inhabit dolls, which are typically disposed of after they are judged!

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Arita Mayu is still around and Ginti can’t judge her. He doesn’t really explain why, but we can assume all my notes about how inept his strategy was last week had something to do with it!

I wouldn’t say his scenes distract from anything. If anything, they show that Decim isn’t alone in his inability to judge everyone. Still… Ginti’s scenes don’t go anywhere and only the viewer gains anything from them. Little at that.

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There’s some rock’n bass-ey electronica going on during Decim’s flash back and, oddly, the lyrics are in english. This is not ballsy per say, anime does english all the time, but I note it for the fact that it isn’t awful and wins Death Parade plenty of points for its effort.

And, as always, it was pretty to look at. Some of the reflection angles were especially well composed. I’m a sucker for pool-with-planets too.

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Again, I didn’t see any deeper meaning here. No icons or symbolism. Mystery and well delivered world building but… no deeper message?

I’m not sure how I feel about that, to be honest. Death Parade isn’t the most complex mystery to begin with and, while I’ve come to like the characters more than I did in the beginning, the shallower it dives, the less it has going for it. The whole ‘why are humans dying so quickly’ plot, Decim being special, and wtf is Shadow, can’t float the show on their own.

So here’s hoping it has a little more going on under those mysteries next week. Otherwise it’ll slip back to being a beautiful but 6/7 worthy show all too quickly.

8_ogk

Death Parade – 06

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Sometimes, when a show breaks from it’s normal tone and format, it can feel like the creators are wasting your time or unfocused or being lazy — and this week’s DP is bizarrely different from previous episodes.

But man was it a pleasant break from DP’s bleak, high drama routine. Dare I say it, this was a break it desperately needed!

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The details: Arita Mayu an over the top fan girl and Harada, a male idol from idol trio CHA, face off against Ginti this week. Also Ginti’s cat.

They play an ever increasingly difficult (read: absurd) game or Twist, that eventually puts them in a literal push-the-other-to-their-death-or-die scenario but it totally backfires on Ginti.

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Even though Harada is probably a bad dude, he doesn’t get to show it because Arata sacrifices herself. However, even though Arata is probably a good person, she’s doing it because Ginti hasn’t let her pee for hours and she can’t cope with urinating all over her idol anymore than she can imagine shoving him in.

This all results in Harada admitting that he only survives through the love and support of his fans, especially fans as strong as Arata and, because the death games are always fake-outs, Harada doesn’t ‘die again’ and they get to have drinks and sing together for the various workers of the tower.

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I’m not even sure if they get judged by the end of it.

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This deserves a 9: because it made fun of how melodramatic Death Parade can be, without breaking the way Death Parade works. If anything, Ginti is more brutal and his game more torturous than Decim’s but his players, who are both physically over the top and manically expressive, have fun all the way. Even their death-realizations are pretty mild.

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Arata herself wins the ‘best ver the top anime character’ award and is, by far, the most hilariously expressive creature I’ve seen in a long time. From her wind-flapping gums, to her back flip soap slip death, I ate up every gesture and facial expression the animators crammed into her.

Seriously, if you miss everything else Death Parade does, scrobble through and enjoy her animation!

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In a nutshell, it was warm and charming. Viginti (Ginti’s bar) itself is warmly colored and brightly light and has none of the heavy-handed gothyness of Decim’s. Heck, even when he tries to be evil, it just comes off as goofy. He has a cat familiar for goodness sakes!

9_ogk