Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 11

mgr112

Well, Cranberry didn’t think Swim Swim would be able to kill her, and she was right…but she didn’t account for Tama and her hole-making ability at a crucial moment, leading to the unfortunate state of affairs above, one of the most surprising (not to mention awesomely gruesome) sudden deaths of the show. Cranberry was supposed to be above all this; she was the last girl standing once before, after all. But she wanted to fight strong enemies, and got her wish – and dug her grave in the process. R.I.P. Cranberry.

mgr111a

For her, well, dog-like loyalty (and complete and utter lack of guile), Tama is swiftly dispatched by Swim Swim, ever looking out for Number One. Tama saw Swim Swim’s true form, after all, and one of the edicts the late Ruler instilled in Swim Swim — in real life a small, impressionable, dedicated young girl — was to never let anyone learn your true identity. Swim Swim decided that even meant her last and most loyal ally. R.I.P. Tama.

(Incidentally, we got Tama’s backstory as she bleeds out, confirming her guilelessness and indicating she, like Alice, simply wanted to be useful to people. Pretty rote stuff.)

mgr113

With the shocking exit of Cranberry (and the far less shocking exit of Tama), the last three magical girls remaining are Swimmy, Ripple, and Snow White. Ripple asks Snow to meet, but Ripple just wants any and all intel Snow might have on Swim Swim, nothing more. Snow argues killing Swimmy now will only make Ripple a murderer, but Ripple don’t care. If Snow won’t help her, she’ll go it alone.

mgr114

Ripple seems to live only to avenge her friend and mentor Top Speed, the aftermath of whose death has been hard on her. Snow lost a friend last week in Alice, but it was essentially a friend she didn’t know she had. Swim Swim, showing a tinge of the innocence of her real self, sheds a tear at the loss of Tama, but Tama wasn’t really her friend, either, more of a sidekick.

No, Ripple and Top Speed were the best-realized duo on the show — more even than Snow and Pucelle — and it was something Ripple didn’t know how badly she needed until it was gone. Top Speed could see a side to Ripple — to Sazanami Kano — no one else could, either because they were too busy looking her up and down, or because she wore her mask so well.

mgr115

Interestingly, Ripple gets a full-on Sailor Moon-style transformation sequence prior to heading to the dam to duel Swim Swim. The fact it’s a dam means there’ll be plenty of water there (good for Swimmy), but Ripple at least has the hint from Fav (who seems kinda miffed by Swimmy’s apathy with her new role as master) that light and sound are her weaknesses.

I don’t know who will prevail in that duel: judging from past battles, Swim Swim always seems to get the upper hand in the end, but she’s out of allies and now occupies the same seemingly invincible space Cranberry once stood. I can’t rule out a Ripple victory.

Heck, maybe they kill each other, leaving Snow White as the last girl standing by default. That’s the least satisfying outcome: Snow is still clinging to her ideals of what a Magical Girl should be. It stands to reason a show that loves taking things away would take that away from her before all’s said and done.

16rating_8

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 10

mgr101

What do we have here? The first magical girl backstory that actually made me feel something, and elicit something other than an indifferent shrug. Like all the other backstories, it still comes too late to be as impactful as it could have been, but it still connected. And what do you know, it’s Hardgore Alice’s alter ego: Hatoda Ako.

One reason Alice looks so dark is because Ako comes from such a dark place. Her father murdered her mother, making her a pariah at school. While her auntie seems nice enough, Ako knows she’s not needed by anyone; she’s just a burden. Then she heard about Snow White, and thought they would make a pretty sweet black-and-white duo.

mgr102

Of course, this is MagiPro, so that turned to shit pretty fast. Mina disguised herself as Alice’s stuffed rabbit in order to learn Ako’s home address. Once Swim Swim knew that, all she had to do was ambush Ako when she wasn’t in her invincible form.

There’s a special twist of the knife in play here, what with Alice trying to reach out to Snow White as a friend, but simply being unable to say the right words at the right time.

That time is when Koyuki is simply freaking out about all the horrible things happening (which is justifiable), but that doesn’t make it any easier when Snow White is holding a bloody, dying Ako in her arms and learns it’s her would-be only friend in the world.

mgr103

That leaves Snow White, Ripple, Swim Swim, Mina, Tama…and Cranberry. And in case you haven’t been paying attention in the last few Cranberry scenes, Cranberry isn’t like the other magical girls. In fact, she seems to be some kind of facilitator from the magical world, overseeing what is in fact a super-bloody selection process that is nearing its end as the ranks dwindle.

For the record, Cranberry would have preferred to simply kill off all the weak ones right away, but has seemingly left the administration of the game to Fav (and whoever is controlling/speaking as Fav).

mgr104

Swim Swim has proven to be a one-girl wrecking crew, and when she comes to Cranberry’s forest to take her down, Cranberry uses is as an opportunity to get to know Swimmy a little better. She’s impressed by her, if not her sidekicks (she kills Mina with ease, in one of the show’s more unceremonious killings), but she still doesn’t think Swim Swim can beat her.

As for Ripple, who is out there on her own with only revenge on her mind, I’m not sure how she’s going to be able to actually exact any on Swim Swim. The first time they fought, Swim seemed to have her number, and that was with Top Speed’s help. And then there’s the possibility Cranberry will kill Swim Swim before Ripple can get to her. In any case, it’s never a dull moment in MagiPro Land.

16rating_8

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 09

mgr91

Ripple has had it with Calamity Mary, and we finally get a good look at what Ripple can do when she’s seriously cheesed off. Unfortunately for her, like Mary with Alice, she underestimates just how formidable her opponent is. Mary is able to hold her own in close quarters, deflect Ripple’s can’t-miss shuriken, attack from range, and set traps.

mg92

Ripple can’t beat Mary on her own. It takes help from Top Speed, who saves Ripple from a land mine and grenade trap, but then turns around at Ripple’s insistence.

After some failed dive-bombings, Top Speed hovers high over Mary while Ripple rains down thousands of tiny shards of glass, which distract Mary enough for her not to dodge when a shuriken hits her in the forehead, killing her. A violent death for a violent (and not particularly compelling) bad gal.

mgr93

Ripple and Top Speed get to celebrate for all of five seconds when Swim Swim shows up, kills Top Speed, and hassles Ripple until turning to water and slinking away, having greatly weakened her enemy by killing her ally. Swim Swim may be dull and monotone, but she’s also proven to be an stone-cold killah, always thinking steps ahead and trying to be a better Ruler to Ruler.

R.I.P. Top Speed: I should have known the recent cut to your real life, and all the mentions of the six months you needed, meant you weren’t long for this world.

mgr94

This whole time, Snow White and Alice are helping care for the innocent people Mary attacked, and even in peaceful duty like this, Alice’s immense strength and durability comes in handy. She comes in even handier when Snow White is ambushed by a vengeful Minael, who turns into a throwing axe that Alice catches in the same spot Mary took Ripple’s shuriken.

Naturally, since her body regenerates, it’s no biggie for Alice, but the message has been sent: Minael is gunning (or axing) for Snow White, so she’d better watch her righteous back.

Oh and Fav announces (to the surprise of no one) since there’s now fewer than eight magical girls left (seven to be exact), they might as well keep going until there are only four. The gears immediately start turning for Swim Swim, who wants to attack Cranberry next using the magic energy potion. That should be some fight.

16rating_8

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 08

mgr81

It’s sad to say, but Habutae Nana was definitively the worst thing to ever happen to Ashuu Shizuku. Sure, it’s not entirely Nana’s fault—how could she know the game she was getting her lover involved in would lead to that lover’s death?

But the bottom line is, Nana did get Shizuku involved…then kept helping her enemies by leading Winterprison into ambush after ambush. You’d think Nana would have gotten the memo by now: there will be no peace until there’s one magical girl remaining.

mgr82

Winterprison manages to slip away from Calamity Mary, but when Nana insists they meet with Swim Swim’s crew, the numbers and tactics prove too challenging to escape with her life. Swim Swim is cold, calculating, and obsessed with surpassing Ruler, whom she still admires despite having betrayed and killed her.

Winterprison does not go quietly, taking Yuna down before succumbing to Swim Swim’s blade. Forgive me for not shedding any tears for Yuna, but she and her twin sister Mina have been nothing but amoral, devious little pills for the entire run of the show, and we didn’t even get a glimpse of their human lives.

mgr84

We do get a little snippet of Top Speed AKA Murota Tsubame’s life as a pregnant housewife that makes her husband worry when she runs after him with his lunch. She’s trying to keep Ripple close to increase her chances of staying alive long enough to give birth to her kid, and Ripple seems totally okay with this for now.

mgr85

The episode ends with nine magical girls still alive: Snow White, Hardgore Alice, Calamity Mary, Cranberry, Swim Swim, Mina, Tama, Top Speed and Ripple. One more death and the group will be halved as Fav decreed…but next week’s episode title about a “rule change” probably portends another halving, then another, until there’s only one girl left.

With Hardgore Alice apparently by Snow White’s side, it’s looking more likely than ever that Koyuki will be the one to survive this ordeal. Whether her soul survives is another issue entirely.

Speaking of souls, we learn that in real life Calamity Mary’s husband left her because she’s a drunk who abused their daughter. So naturally Fav thought it would be a great idea to give her more power. But we saw how ineffective that power was against Alice, and Alice seems to be protecting Snow White. We’ll see where this goes.

16rating_8

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 07

mgr71

After the ordeal with Magicaloid and Hardgore Alice, Koyuki wakes up in her bed, shaken but none the worse for wear, and in possession of a rabbit’s foot, a rare item Fav says belongs to Alice. Koyuki wants to return it, but wants nothing else to do with Alice, who freaks her out royally.

mgr72

When Calamity Mary gets wind of Magicaloid’s death, she seeks out Alice, but no matter how hard she tries, she just can’t kill the bitch. Riddling her with bullet holes? Nothing. Blowing her to a bloody pulp with a shotgun, machine gun, and grenade? Nada. Chopping her gooey remains to pieces, setting them aflame, pouring acid over them, burying them in a drum full of cement and tossing it into the ocean? Absolutely no effect.

Calamity Mary has finally found an implacable adversary, and it’s uncertain whether she’s excited or simply going insane from that prospect. It is interesting, however, that by trying to take out Alice, she’s showing a kind of loyalty to her former business associate. Honor among thieves and all that.

mgr73

Sazanami Kano AKA Ripple is billed as a main character alongside Koyuki, and we’ve seen a bunch of her, but didn’t know quite where she was coming from until this week. Her life is presented as a series of incidents where she can’t take it anymore, lashes out physically, and ends up alone.

Granted, people say and do awful things to her that warrant a good punching, but it’s clear she’s not exactly what you’d call fulfilled. Maybe she sticks with Top Speed out of a desire to connect with someone that still endures despite all the awful experiences she’s had with people…as enduring as Hardgore Alice’s invincible Terminator body.

mgr75

As for Alice, she confronts Koyuki, and won’t leave her alone even when she tries to run away, but while doing this makes her threatening, Alice takes no violent action against her. In fact, she’s adamant that she merely gave Koyuki her rabbit’s foot because “she felt like it.”

Maybe despite appearances she’s not someone Koyuki needs to be worried about. Swim Swim is another story, as the episode ends with her setting up an ambush for Nana and Winterprison, who are seeking unity in these troubling times.

As for Calamity Mary wanting to meet with Ripple, I’m not sure what that’s about, but surely someone has to bite the dust at some point, as there are currently more girls left than episodes.

16rating_7

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 02

mgr21

This week we get to learn a bit more about the other magical girls and their various affiliations, the method by which Fav will determing which magical girls will be culled, and most importantly, the consequences of being one of those girls.

Calamity Mary is a loose cannon, in this for herself. Top Speed looks after Ripple, to whom trouble seems to always come. Ruler leads the largest alliance of girls, and won’t let anyone in her group drop out.

mgr22

While some of the girls’ abilities leave me wondering how they collect “Magical Candies” to determine who survives, with Snow White and La Pucelle there isn’t really any wonder. Koyuki is a good-deed-doing machine, and just being with her keeps Souta out of the points basement.

mgr23

Unfortunately, someone has to “go” every week for the next eight weeks, and this week is no exception. And while Nemurin’s “deeds” include saving the world and space multiple times, because she’s only doing it in people’s dreams, her candies are only dream candies.

She doesn’t seem to mind, since she’s having fun helping people in dreams. And in the real world, she’s getting ready to end her NEET status and move forward in her life, so if she’s the first to lose, it’s not that big a deal.

mgr24

Of course, things aren’t that simple. It was disquieting enough to see Nemurin’s avatar get rubbed out, followed by the curt message that she’s been “deleted.” It’s quite another matter when, after the stroke of midnight on her last night as a magical girl, Sanjou Nemu “says goodbye to everything”, and her mother finds her lying dead in her bead.

Now we know this isn’t just a competition to remain being a magical girl. These girls are fighting for their lives. Most, including Koyuki, aren’t aware of this yet. Fortunately for her, she’s at the top of the points. But that makes her a target; Ruler in particular sees her as an eyesore. We’ve got a tough, bloody, slightly frilly battle ahead of us.

16rating_8

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 01 (First Impressions)

mgr11

What is it: The story of Himekawa Koyuki, who has loved magical girls since she was a little kid, suddenly being selected to become a real magical girl by the mobile game MagiPro. She immediately set to work helping townsfolk, and the first fellow magical girl she meets in person is her childhood friend Souta, a boy. One day, MagiPro’s mascot Fav announces the number of magical girls in the region will be halved from sixteen to eight.

mgr12

Why You Should Watch: It’s above-average in terms of general looks and production values, once you get used to its character design, which tends towards the cute. Sure, Koyuki’s almost painfully earnest and naive, but the show seems fully aware of this, and unlike Gakkou Gurashi, doesn’t wait until the end of the episode to drop the hammer down.

It’s right there in the cold open: one magical girl standing over the bloodied corpses of her rivals. Even so, it’s nice to ease into this suddenly miraculous world along with Koyuki, and even though we know she’s doomed, we can still enjoy the little bit of good times she has early on. Her friend Souta’s situation is also an interesting wrinkle.

mgr13

Why You Shouldn’t Watch: The presence of over sixteen characters, most of which billed as mains, can be intimidating, and also allows for an almost overwhelming helping of moe (each magical girl has their own specific…very specific look). The show owes much to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Koyuki owes much to Madoka herself, while the format suggests a marathon/tournament on the scale of Akuma no Riddle or another Lerche series, Danganronpa.

mgr14

The Verdict: Unlike Touken Ranbu, MagiPro had a hook to it that made me invested in the protagonist and look forward to the next episode. There’s a lot of exposition in both shows, but for some reason it felt more natural and less drawn out here, and the concept was a lot simpler and, more importantly, actually executed well.

Koyuki’s transition is quick, but we feel the same wonder she feels, and the same dread when she sees the ominous word “halved” in the chat room. She’s committed to be a “pure, righteous, and beautiful” magical girl, but she may have to rethink that strategy if she doesn’t want to be a dead one.

16rating_8

Berserk – 01 (First Impressions)

bers11

“Guts, known as the Black Swordsman, seeks sanctuary from the demonic forces that pursue him and his woman, and also vengeance against the man who branded him as an unholy sacrifice. Aided only by his titanic strength, skill, and sword, Guts must struggle against his bleak destiny, all the while fighting with a rage that might strip him of his humanity. Berserk is a dark and brooding story of outrageous swordplay and ominous fate, in the theme of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.” —MAL

Full disclosure: I’ve never read the manga this is based on, so I came in knowing nothing. I also haven’t read Macbeth since junior high, so all I remember is that there’s a manipulative Lady in it. So forgive my ignorance and read on to learn a fresh perspective on Berserk unblemished by prior consumption of the material (at least that I remember).

bers12

Berserk definitely has its draws: a lush yet grim fantasy world full of violence both human-and-human and demon-on-human; an overpowered cursed antihero with a bad attitude and even worse effect on the lives of the innocent; decent voice acting and a great soundtrack. Some  strong elements of horror (body and otherwise), blood, and gore, though all tastefully censored.

bers13

Those pros were not able to overcome the cons for me, at least in the first episode. The cons are pretty big: the CGI animation of characters is distractingly weird. If you know my work you know I reviewed (and loved) two seasons of Sidonia, but for some reason this style works far better in a futuristic sci-fi milieu for me.

It took me a couple of episodes to get used to Sidonia (and I never got far with Ronja), but I’m less optimistic about Berserk. It’s not so much the uncanny valley effect as the inescapable feeling that these are wooden CGI armatures moving around very awkwardly mechanically.

That suits the frenetic combat at times, but any natural movements, including mouth movements and expressions, suffer greatly, marring the overall viewing experience.

bers14

This comes down to a question of style: Berserk’s producers for whatever reason decided not to use conventional animation, and frankly, that could well be a dealbreaker. Even if not, the naked annoying motormouth Puck would be (sorry, Puck fans out there).

I can’t immerse myself in a world that announces its “fakeness” so transparently, in a manner most anime manage to avoid. Some say more and more full CG will be the future of anime, but with some notable exceptions, I hope that’s not the case.

16rating_6

Attack on Titan – 02

titan21

As the first waves of Titan victims become a feast for crows, Eren, Mikasa and Armin retreat from Shiganshina and the breached Wall Maria to Wall Rose. Initially carried by Hannes, Eren fumes over running away, but there’s nothing else to do: he lacks the strength, as does all of humanity.

titan22

As for the Titans themselves, there’s a bizarrely charming dumpy childishness to many of the smaller ones, acting like the humans spread out before them are simply fun toys that happen to double as food. But then there are some that seem much more purely evil, or at least more evolved to dispatch humans on a massive scale, like the Titan that blasts through the gate and uses fire breath to roast the garrison.

There’s a sickening inhuman cruelty at work, but also the sense that this is simply how nature has progressed; humans are no longer the top dogs, and life is going to get more difficult. The Titans are simply doing what they’ve evolved to do: feed on humans. Sorry, humans.

titan222

The kids end up on a boat with a few hundred other survivors, who then become refugees within Wall Rose. Whatever picturesque, idealized town Shiganshina was, their new temporary home is far bleaker and harsher, with a populace already experiencing a food shortage, there’s great animosity for the newcomers; even wishes that the Titans ate more of them.

Once he’s over the initial shock of witnessing his mother’s death and the death of hundreds of others before his eyes, Eren switches to anger and goals that, at this point, are absurdly unreasonable and premature. He tries to run before he can crawl, or at least talk about running, i.e. driving the Titans out.

Thank goodness then, he has the more sensible Armin to keep him from getting an even more severe beating from a guard, and a no-nonsense Mikasa who isn’t above punching Eren out and stuffing bread down his throat if it means keeping him alive.

I’m already enjoying the dynamic of these three, in particular Mikasa, the steadfast rock of the trio with no patience for Eren’s empty speeches about wiping out the Titans when clearly, at present, nothing can be done.

titan23

That fact is underlined when, after putting the refugees to work in the wastelands cultivating food doesn’t arrest the food shortage, 250,000 of them are sent back out to “fight” the Titans. Of course, they only serve as a massive buffet (only 200 survive), and a sign of how callous those behind an inner wall can be to preserve what they have.

A lot of time passes this week, making these first two episodes  a solid foundation chronicling the trauma endured by our protagonists that motivate them to enlist in the military, that they might do something, anything to try to push the Titans back.

Meanwhile, Eren has intense, disturbing dreams and/or visions of future events; his dad is still alive somewhere, and there was a secret in the basement of the family home his dad intended Eren to see. All of this points to Eren being more than just talk, but whatever power he possesses seems a long way from being unleashed.

9_brav2

Reminder: Comments are welcome as always, but please limit discussion to this episode and avoid spoilers, as I am watching AoT for the first time. Many thanks—HB

Attack on Titan – 01

titan11

Thanks to Netflix and a relatively light Fall season, I am pleased to finally crack open the massively popular Attack on Titan, a show I eschewed virtually sight unseen, choosing instead to follow Gargantia, Majestic Prince, and Valvrave. I’m only past the first episode of AoT, but I can already see I made a major oversight; one that will be corrected forthwith.

AoT’s cold open shows us the very moment the people of Shiganshina are royally hosed, then after the credits, rewinds to the morning before the shit hits the fan and begins the process of masterfully building up the dread and tension preceding the events of the cold open.

As we follow Eren (a loud-mouthed portentous shonen if ever there was one) and his sister Mikasa (a girl of few words but immense strength) as they wind their way through the streets of their huge hometown, the walls, streets and structures have a strength, solidarity, and safety to them. Even the sounds of everyday life are lulling.

titan12

If there is one shortcoming to this first episode, it’s that Eren isn’t necessarily likable at first. His reasons for wanting to strike out into the outside world aren’t unreasonable, but he can be over-emphatic in his protestations and scolds.

Sure, he may have had a vision of doom descending on Shiganshina, but he’s fighting against a century of idleness and contentment. Conviction and loudness are no substitute for hard evidence. Also, the episode tries to paint Armin with broad strokes, but there’s not much to him yet except that like Eren, he’s not content to stay within the walls.

Then the evidence arrives in the form of a hand grasping the top of the 50-meter outer wall, and it’s a powerful “Toldya so” moment that shakes every inhabitant of the city to their core. Then…a hole is blasted in the wall with such force it causes widespread destruction to the rest of the city. And that’s before smaller Titans start rushing in.

Any early quibbles I might have had with Eren or Armin go out the window when the appalling carnage starts, with throngs of humans running for their lives and many being scooped up and gobbled up like hors d’oeuvres. There’s a distinct sticky aura of awfulness to the spectacle, and the utter powerlessness of the three young protagonists.

titan13

When Eren rushes home hoping against hope his house is still intact only to find his mom’s legs crushed under its ruins, it’s a gut punch. Before I can recover from that, a Titan eats her with cold satisfaction as a fleeing Eren watches, flooring me yet again.

Amidst the wholesale butchery and mass despair, there are obviously glints of both hope and levity. Mikasa’s imposing brawn is employed for a snicker when she and Eren rescue Armin from bullies, and the smash cut from Hannes momentarily facing off against a Titan to reconsidering and scooping up the kids, and retreating was a legitimately funny “oh shit” moment.

As for hope, well, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin are still alive, which means anything is possible. Obviously, they won’t stay powerless for long. But nor is any viable counterattack likely in the immediate future. The onslaught of the Titans has only begun, after all. For now, surviving is the name of the game.

9_brav2

Welcome to my weekly (or bi-weekly) Attack on Titan retro reviews. Comments are welcome as always, however please limit discussion to this episode and avoid spoilers, as I am writing these reviews as I watch AoT for the first time. Thanks—HB

Pupa – 10

pupa10

This week picks up right after Yume and Haruka make out in the unused classroom has escaped and torn the research team and several guards to shreds, having herself a little impromptu buffet. She’s so hungry from the exertion she almost forgets she has to find her bro, who is still mostly in one piece.

Then she encounters a group of some of the worst security guards in existence, who calmly stand around receiving orders just feet away from their target. When Yume basically explodes the upper half of their point man, it takes them way too long to realize that yes, indeed, their comrade is dead as fuck.


Rating: 5 (Average)

Pupa – 02

pupa2

Time for our weekly check-in on Utsutsu and Yume, and there’s even time for a little backstory, which is about what you’d expect to be these poor kids’ history: both they and their mother were beaten mercilessly by their scum of a father, and after their parents divorced their mother lost interest in parenting altogether and abandoned them.

So yeah, not exactly childhoods full of love, and yet they still love each other, and neither of them is a bloodthirsty demon, right? Until now, that is. Some “researcher” named Maria shows up to tell Utsutsu that his voice won’t reach hers, but then he finds Yume in the woods chomping on some random bit of person and they can understand each other perfectly.

Unfortunately for Utsutsu, her little sister’s actions are now being driven by animal instinct, so when she tells him ‘she wants more’, she means more meat, now, and Utsutsu gets a gaping neck wound as he’s the closest meat around. That can’t be good! We’re still not quite sure what to make of these comically short series, but it definitely has a macabre, Kafkaesque allure about it.


Rating: 5 (Average)