Citrus – 06

My first thought about Mei’s Dad showing up is Please don’t be a creep. But once it’s clear he’s not, it’s also clear what else he’s not: Mei’s strict “sensei.” Mei’s ideal of her father is who he was, not who he is or who he’ll ever be again. He chose to leave the academy and won’t go back.

That decision left Mei alone on a path she thought they’d share forever. Her father’s absence has only made things worse, as by not opening his letters she could convince herself there was still hope he’d come back to that path.

Now that Yuzu knows the score from both sides, her goal of bringing the two together has gotten a lot more complicated. Mei is so distraught and fatalistic, she seeks an easy escape in fooling around with Yuzu. Yuzu is understandably insulted and pained if Mei thinks the only way Yuzu can “accept” her and “be the one that needs” her is to submit to commiseratory sex.

After an awkward morning where Mei slips out without breakfast, Yuzu’s Mama adds another piece to the puzzle: she calls her husband a “tsundere”, able to spread education and love to kids the world over, but finds it almost cripplingly difficult to do the same with his own natural daughter. And yet, he accepts that maybe he’s just not cut out for it, and that it might be too late, and asks Yuzu to be the support Mei needs in his stead.

While attempting to ascertain what Mei needs and how to support her, Yuzu gets some very welcome emotional and logistical support from Harumin, who strikes about the right balance between being almost too perfectly helpful and being a character in her own right.

When Yuzu gets word from Mama that Papa is leaving for abroad in less than two hours, Harumin takes Yuzu to school on her bike so she can find Mei, not wanting her dad to leave with things the way they are.

When they just miss each other in the chairman’s office, Yuzu hijacks the P.A. system to get a message to Mei: that she’s done a good job; that she shouldn’t blame herself anymore; that she’s pushed herself enough for someone else’s sake.

Yuzu snatches up Mei and they race to the station, which Mei thinks is another example of Yuzu acting without thinking. But Yuzu has thought about it a lot, and this is what she’s decided to do: cultivate a situation in which Mei is able to let go of “sensei”, embrace her father for who he is, choose her own path, and move forward.

They get to the station right on time to catch Mei’s dad. After they share some words, they have a cordial goodbye, and Mei actually calls him “father” for once. It’s certainly a bittersweet moment, but it also must be exciting and relieving for her; she really will inherit the academy, because it’s what she has decided to do.

That night, she opens and reads all of her father’s letters to her with Yuzu by her side. Yuzu is so relieved and happy that Mei has made so much progress that she can’t help but tear up a little. That, in turn, brings Mei’s face close enough to hers for a kiss, and they do kiss, but it’s not anything like any of the other kisses they’ve shared before. For one thing, neither forced it on the other.

With Mei’s daddy dilemma largely resolved, we immediately move on to this next stage in their relationship, just as Yuzu’s pink-haired, conniving, scheming, manipulative childhood friend remembers her and plans to “get back in touch”, which could well mean an attempt to ruin Yuzu’s life for her own amusement. Should be fun!

Kuma Miko – 07

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Another Tuesday, another mediocre Kuma Miko: Machi cuts fire wood with an axe. Then she lights the kitchen on fire because her anxiety prevents her from using the rice cooker properly.

Then Yoshio has Natsu perform a ritual, except Yoshio’s granny didn’t leave instructions and no one actually knows what the ceremony is for or how to do it.

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Nothing of consequence happened this week but, unlike the average episode of Flying Witch, there’s nothing warm and comfortable about Kuma Miko. Mentally ill or not, Machi is an unpleasant character who’s self-fulfilling idiocy brings the misfortune in the most telegraphed, dull, way possible.

Meanwhile Yoshio is portrayed as a simpleton, just going through the motions and Natsu is shown as loving Machi, but not always able to express it without insulting her. And his love hasn’t really been returned by Machi these past few episodes, making the relationship (and Machi herself) less bearable.

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The verdict: the punchline is everyone has mental illness, obliviousness, and a nihilistic outlook for the aging people of the mountains. Old people are stupid, deaf, and the few offspring they’ve culturally trapped through bumpkin-ism are resentful about the meaningless and smallness of their lives, and they retaliate through lazy destruction and not taking their jobs seriously.

Being technically competent is not enough to save Kuma Miko from its dull, repetitive stagger off my review list. It’s not worth hating but the formula isn’t funny or charming enough to get me through the rest.

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Kuma Miko – 06

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This week Machi tried to go to a novelty bookstore but a self-hatred-fueled freakout rampage prevented her from doing so. She also met a boy, although that doesn’t appear to be relevant to the narrative.

Later, still gripped with terror/embarrassment/self-loathing, Machi freaks out at Natsu. But then she has a fever and Natsu feels bad about making her go to the bookstore. He tries to make her feel better by cooking a meal and taking the blame for her troubles. Eventually, after savagely beating him for a night, Machi feels better and goes to school.

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So… that was awful. Ignoring the complete lack of content, set backs to Machi’s arduously slow growth, and reliance on girl punches guy humor, episode six was simply dull. The lack of new situations was also emphasized by Machi being ‘saved’ by the boy on the escalator, only for the episode to drop him completely out of the narrative.

Hibiki existed only to name drop this week’s business for the show to visit; Yoshio existed only to move Machi from space to space and strike his ‘you got this’ pose; Machi existed only to hate herself, and Natsu only existed to flash us back to Machi being a nice caring girl when she was younger and for some bear slap-stick cooking mishaps.

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The verditc: abusive, childish, tantrumming and self hatred are not the strongest themes for comedy. Nor are they good anchors for ‘lite’ casual watching. If not for Natsu’s predictable but — yes — still adorable kitchen antics, this episode would be a total failure.

Good job show. If your goal was to make me not like Machi this week, you were very successful. Why you would want me to hate your protagonist though… uh… yeah why would you want that??

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Kuma Miko – 05

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Unwinding Kuma Miko’s narrative is a little harder than unwinding this week’s underlying theme: a person’s surface traits only obscures an opposite underlying reality.

Machi’s keen observation and ‘possessed’ knowledge obscures her lack of real work understanding, Natsu’s kindness masks a deep frustration with the ‘dumbness’  of people, Hibiki’s violent demeanor simply hides her bashful love, and Yoshio’s constant scheming is only a pretense for a deeply simple man with a deeply simple brain…

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What happened? The girls flaunted their new clothes, Hibiki’s motives for helping Machi were implied to be due to Yoshio asking, and that Hibiki has a strong love for Yoshio.

Also, a little boy was locked in a cave with Natsu to scare him straight and there was a lot of blushing. Honestly, nothing that really matters narratively beyond Hibiki liking Yoshio…

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Was it good? Sure! Kuma Miko’s blend of unexpected yet simple humor is as often comforting as it is truly funny. Natsu is incredibly likable, and his rare annoyance with everyone being so simple–even after he tries to explain things simply–is understandable.

Kuma Miko is ultimately harder to deep critique beyond that point. It’s a good slice of life and characterization with gentle humor and blush-blush yuck-yuck gentle romance. Sure, it wouldn’t be much without the weird central characters and a talking bear, but even then, it would be completely watchable.

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Kuma Miko – 04

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I never expected Kuma Miko to carry last week’s costumes over to a second episode and, coupled with the village ceremonies, the village men chatting about the costumes they preferred, and watching Machi and Natsu eat sushi together, the first act is a master class in slice-of-life as world-building.

It was slow, comfortable, almost joke-free but still enjoyable. The fact Machi gets more character designs and the in-show world responds to it is a nice play on anime convention.

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Then the second act comes out of nowhere and introduces Yoshi’s childhood friend Hibiki and goes off on a tangent about the Shimomura clothing retailer. Hibiki aside, the Shimomura segment is a lot like last season’s Dagashi Kashi, as I have no context for this company and have no idea why the writers felt a possessed Machi rambling off factoids about this company would be funny or even interesting.

Because Hibiki is introduced to us abruptly, and Machi is wearing her ‘flashback’ school clothes AND because we’d seen flashbacks in the first act, I initially though the entire scene WAS a flashback. Put it all together and the second half is a confusing mess.

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Last week I called out Kuma Miko for being overly safe and relying on it’s central relationship’s quirkiness for all it’s humor. I’m not sure that is still true this week, with the introduction of Hibiki and Machi’s relationship.

However, the second act is so random and disconnected from the show that playing it safe may be all Kuma Miko is able to do? Definitely watchable, strange, but not really ‘good’ as an alternative.

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Kuma Miko – 03

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Kuma Miko is a remarkable safe, enjoyable comedy that relies on the goofiness of its setting and central relationship for most of its humor. Previous episodes have hung close to Machi’s urge to leave her small rural nest and her challenge she must overcome to do so.

This week took an unexpectedly interesting look at how heritage itself must face the modern world. The result was clever, even if it wasn’t any funnier or more dramatic than before.

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In the opening act, Machi notices she’s gained a weight and attempts to co-opt ritual dance into exercise – complete with gym-coach style one-two-one-two dance music.

Natsu finds this a little sacrilegious at first but eventually bumps it up a notch further with a bear-based DJ session…that results in angering the mountain gods and bringing the rain.

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In the second act, the towns people have made 4 summer-style costumes for Machi to wear at the shrine. Machi is initially very excited by the prospect of seeing a new take on Ainu tradition, but quickly learns the costumes are all embarrassing to wear and make minimal nods to tradition.

The second costume in particular includes bear ears and a tail…

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What stood out: the bear clubbing session was fun and it added nuance and supportive nature to Natsu’s character. Some of the animations of Machi moving around on the floor were also above average. The throw away gag about learning the history of electricity at the open was also entertaining.

Over all, Kuma Miko is a low 8 but still an 8. It isn’t remarkable in many ways, as it generally plays it safe, but the humor and core relationship has a good hook.

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Kuma Miko – 02

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Kuma Miko demonstrates this week that it’s prepared to go to some pretty far-flung lengths for the sake of comedy, including a conspicuous amount of Uniqlo exposure. Machi remains firm in her desire to move to the city, but Natsu still doesn’t think she’s ready.

She literally grapples Natsu and then turns on the waterworks, and Natsu relents, drawing up on ink and paper the next trial to determine her readiness for life outside the village. It’s totally out-of-left-field trial, too:

“Buy a HEATTECH item from Uniqlo.”

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Just go to a store and buy an item from a particular line. Sounds simple, right; especially with two days to work with? HA! Little did I know how epic an adventure was about to unfold. It’s a long way from the village to the nearest Uniqlo, and the bridge out of the village is out, so Machi has to wait a whole day to even leave.

When she does, she finds her bike has been taken by her uncle for the day, so she has to borrow her cousin’s infamous bike, which…is not a good bike. It’s too big for Machi, and very heavy too, due to a completely unnecessary mini leather armchair for a seat and an animal carrier in back.

Seriously, I felt uncomfortable watching her ride the thing. Things seemed to be going okay at first, but I was tense when Machi started descending a hill a bit too fast; sure enough, the brakes fail and she’s out of control!

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After briefly getting air, a la E.T., Machi bails out, and the bike smashes against a tree trunk into dozens of pieces. She lands awkwardly and gets several bruises and scratches, but is otherwise okay physically.

But mentally? She can’t help but crumple into a ball and call for her Natsu to help her, like the dependent Machi of yore. Natsu seems to get the message that his ward is in trouble, Lassie-style…but it turns out his back is itchy and he needs to rub it on a tree trunk.

With Natsu not coming, Machi rights the leather chair, has a seat, and simply takes a moment, before slapping her thighs and re-committing herself to completing this task, even if she has to walk through the dangerous mountain woods to reach the Uniqlo.

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Fortuitously, she comes upon the stream where Yoshio is fishin with a completely toasted Matsu, whose booze breath, demeanor and constant mocking Machi is forced to put up with as Yoshio drives them to the Uniqlo, where she successfully buys here HEATTECH item (a t-shirt…not a heater).

Before piling back in the car, she finally loses her cool, beats Matsu with her bag, and punches Yoshio in the gut for making her endure so much BS (Yoshio, of course, being the owner of that ridiculous bike). It’s righteous payback for everything she’s endured up to that point.

She returns to Natsu not any surer of her ability to take care of herself, having had to rely on a ride from Yoshio—even though Natsu always assumed she’d get a ride from him anyway. Machi basically made the task far harder than it needed to be.

But as she says, all’s well that ends well: with her revealing her chic new HEATTECH top she dons defiantly beneath her miko garb; naturally, the “S S S S S” sticker still affixed. She’s one step closer to gaining the bear’s permission to move out.

Before credits, Yoshio goes to the garage to find his stupid bike missing, and the episode cuts to the spot in the forest where Machi regained her resolve—where the stately leather armchair still sits, bathed in golden light. An absurd, surreal sight if I ever saw one!

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Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko 3

Makoto goes on a date with the almost sickly-cute Ryuushi and really enjoys himself (although dude…you can’t handle fizzy drinks? wtf…), but he finds himself distracted by thoughts of Erio. What is her deal? Meme tells him (in a rather awkward bedroom scene) not to pry, just leave Erio be, like she does – she just wants to be left alone. While that may be true – Erio is in a futon most of the time – Mako simply can’t let her be. He wants to snap her out of it.

To crush her delusions, he decides to go on a bicycle ride with her in the same bike she rode off a bridge, essentially repeating the incident that caused her present trauma and memory loss. He makes her promise to renounce her claim of being alien if she can’t make them fly in the bike. Not surprisingly, they fail to fly, though they fall spectacularly into the sea and the bike is lost. This seems to awaken Erio a bit; her manner of speaking is much more normal, and she concedes defeat. Mako and Erio re-introduce themselves, as Mako believes this is the true beginnning of their friendship. Even though he didn’t mean to take the game of chicken so far (physics had other ideas), he seems quite happy with the result.

This series is really good with close-ups, particularly those of the female characters of the show. But I noticed some really crappy animation mixed in, as well as lots of poorly proportioned limbs, still shots and other instances were corners were clearly cut, which is a shame, especially when Puella Magi Madoka Magica looked consistently superb throughout. Also, the opening theme is easily the worst I’ve ever heard, and the ending isn’t much better (Etsuko Yakushimaru’s songs all sound the same to be now). Depsite these shortcomings, I’m confident the story and characters will continue to do the heavy lifting here. Rating: 3.5