Steins;Gate 0 – 15 – MOE MOE KYUN

Up to this point, it looked like things were going well for Daru and Yuki. Not fast, but good. Both were comfortable with the pace. Suzuha isn’t satisfied with his dad’s pace, so gets Feyris to doctor a photo to make it look like she’s slowly fading from time—Back to the Future style—because Daru isn’t spending enough time with her future mother. Meanwhile, Maho returns to Japan…but doesn’t have much to do at first.

She joins Suzuha, who gathers all of the other women (plus Ruka, minus Nae) to put Daru through a kind of “Dating Boot Camp”, even going so far as to have Maho hook him up to some kind of ridiculous “sleep learning” device.

The resulting Daru is confident—suave, even. But no matter how good his fancy date with Yuki looks from afar, in the end, Yuki has simply seen and heared and endured enough, and gives Daru the “oh look at the time.”

Daru needs time alone, and Suzu thinks she’s torpedoed her own birth. She thinks of the time her mom sacrificed herself to save her from a killer drone. She admits to Daru that the photo and stuff was a lie because she wanted to watch him and Yuki fall in love firsthand.

Daru was on to Suzuha all along (he is her dad, after all), but is grateful for the little push in the back he needed. He calls Yuki, apologizes for the first date, and she grants him a second in as many days, suggesting Suzu never had anything to worry about.

The nature of the date also suggests that any kind of unnatural meddling in Daru and Yuki’s romance would be fruitless, because Yuki likes Daru just the way he normally is, right down to the way he confesses, which is up in the title of this review. Justhewayouarism; clearly Yuki was a student of Fred Rogers.

After Yuki and Suzu talk post-Daru’s confession, they share a knowing hug that almost makes be think Yuki is aware of exactly who Suzu is. I mean, why not? Daru knows Suzu is his daughter, why wouldn’t Yuki instinctively know she’s her mother? As for Suzu’s sour face after departing from Yuki’s embrace, what was that all about? Does she sense K6205 watching her from on high?

This was an inoffensive enough little palate-cleanser for the coming trials involving Maho, Daru, the time leap machine, etc. But it lacked stakes, as I never believed Suzuha’s never being born was particularly likely, and certainly not something that would be determined in one episode.

As I said, Maho was mostly wasted this week, though I’m keeping an eye on the widening distance between Rintarou and Mayuri. It’s not that he doesn’t want to hang out with her ever; he’s just a very busy dude right now.

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Kuromukuro – 12

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As the Gezon-Reco of Efidolg decide to send another of their own (Nouet) down to Japan to deal with the Black Relic that’s been ruining their plans, the school term has given way to Summer break for Yukina, Ken, and Noelle, as well as Akagi, Mika, and Kaya.

Yukina boasts that she needn’t participate in extra lessons despite her deplorable marks, since she’s already been enrolled in what amounts to boot camp at Kurobe, with the always pleasantly profane Tom Borden as drill sargeant and Noelle, Shenmei, and Seb joining both out of solidarity and to stay sharp. Akagi also joins, in hopes of becoming a geoframe pilot.

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What ensues is your standard boot-camp/training episode, with Yukina predictably bad at pretty much everything early on. Indeed, after the first day of exertion she’s skipping dinner to throw up in the sink, but Shenmei grabs her from behind, throws her on the bed, sits on her, and…gives her deep massage and reiki. We’ve seen precious little of Shenmei, but I like how she’s so quietly supportive during Yukina’s descent into her Summer of Hell.

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To add insult to injury, Seb is assigned by her teacher to make sure she and Ken don’t fall behind on lessons. But the training is a long time coming now that Yukina is committed to co-piloting the Black Relic with Ken: she can’t rely on him to rescue her from every little thing.

That being said, Ken still saves her on numerous occasions, whether it’s a hand or word of encouragement, or something more dramatic like saving her from drowning when Tom shoves her into a pool in full kit.

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Ken is punished for “babying the Princess”, but thanks to Tom not thinking when activating the shock collar, Yukina and Noelle also get zapped, and the three zappees get a day off while Shenmei and Tom test the experimental GAUS water-walking system.

The unusual-for-Kuromukuro level of fanservice continues when Noelle shares photos of Mika in sexy fantasy cosplay that Ken can neither resist voicing his outrage and snapping a pic of the pic for his own, erm, records.

When the water-walking GAUS goes literally sideways and water starts leaking in the sinking frame, Shenmei remains almost comically (but also impressively) cool as a cucumber.

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The training continues, with Ken having to push Yukina less and less since she’s pushing herself (though Noelle notices how much he stares at Yukina), and things get easier as she grows stronger and more confident. Where once she couldn’t shoot with her eyes open, now she at least opens one, so it’s only a matter of time before she opens both.

For his continues heroism and lack of betrayal, Ken is rewarded by having his sword returned to him (by Yukina) and his collar removed (also by Yukina), resulting in some very close proximity between the two.

I’m enjoying the slow burn of their mutual attraction and respect, even if it doesn’t go far. Like it or not, Ken has found a new “princess” in Yukina, and thus a new commitment and purpose.

Yukina tells him he gets the sword on the condition he won’t seek his death with it through reckless action. And as the episode closes with a descending Nouet, Yukina’s newfound skills and stamina will be put to the test very soon.

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Attack on Titan – 04

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I’ll say this about these first episodes of AoT: it does not dick around. Two more years pass during which Eren, Mikasa, Armin, and a large group of fellow young cadets are hardened and trained, and graduation nears. As the drill sergeant observes them training in the woods he helpfully lays out the strengths and weaknesses of each recruit.

Armin lacks strength, but he’s got a sharp mind; Eren isn’t spectacular at any one thing, but he learns quickly, works hard, and no one is more driven. Mikasa is perfect at everything; a once-in-a-generation all-round talent. But you know what? That’s fine with me, because she’s so damn modest and unassuming about that ability.

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What I also like is that Mikasa isn’t just tough for a girl, she’s the toughest cadet, period, and there are other tough girls too, like the food-obsessed Sasha and aloof Annie Lockhart. The latter teaches both Eren and Braun a lesson with combat skills her father taught her, but isn’t taking any of this seriously, as the whole idea of those who are the most talented at killing Titans get to serve furthest away from them, in the interior Military Police.

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Indeed the top ten cadets in the class of 218 have the option of reporting straight to the Military Police, where they may theoretically live out their lives in relative peace and safety. Mikasa graduates top in the class, while Eren finishes a surprising fifth, with Armin placing outside the top ten.

Eren will have none of the military police; he’s joining the Scout Regiment, where he can take the fight directly to the Titans who took his mother and home. Armin and Mikasa decide to join him in turn, with Mikasa convinced he’ll die a quick death without her by his side. Protective? Sure, but he is her family.

When they graduate, Eren gives a speech rejecting the notion the Titans cannot be beaten, and that there’s value in fighting them even at the cost of his life, as continuing to fight them will allow them to gather more and more intel about their foe, so that one day, future forces might be able to bring them down for good. He doesn’t want to die, but he can’t sit back and do nothing.

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The speech clearly moves a few of his fellow top tenners like Conny and Sasha, who join him in the Scout Regiment. When they arrive in Trost district along Wall Rose, they’re welcomed by an optimistic crowd; it’s been five years since the Colossal Titan attacked, and there hasn’t been any advancement by the enemy. In that time, the collective wounds have healed a little, and both hope and dignity are in the air.

…Then, on Eren’s first day atop the wall maintaining the cannon, the Colossal Titan returns, and the lighthearted mood is replaced by terror and despair. Man…Not particularly forgiving to its human populace, this show. Yet Eren doesn’t freeze in fear. He and his comrades are scattered off the wall, but he uses his ODM gear to get back to the battlements and face his nemesis down.

He’s not scared, he’s pissed, and his time has come to finally attempt what he’s wanted to do since he saw his mother get eaten. I have no earthly idea how he expects to take the behemoth on, who will help him, and who won’t survive the imminent battle, but I’m damned eager to find out on all counts.

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Attack on Titan – 03

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Two years after the Titan attack destroyed their home, Eren, Mikasa and Armin begin boot camp, and their drill sergeant suffers no foolishness, especially from one Sasha Blouse, who just can’t help scarfing down a hot potato while he’s talking (the tension of the exchange is highly amusing, showing off Titan’s sense of humor even in such bleak setting. (The sergeant also thinks Armin Arlert is a dumb name.)

It’s a common strategy: strip the cadets down and then build them back up, in their case, into Titan-killing soldiers. As the sergeant walks down the line, we learn how the recruits are from all over, and have enlisted for many different reasons. Many don’t cut it and leave to work the fields on the first day. Others will wash out later. I liked how the sergeant knew from the look of the cadets who’d already gone through the wringer.

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Eren is eager to get through training so he can start kicking Titanic ass on the front lines, but he hits a snag: the omni-directional mobility gear all soldiers need to master. In short, he sucks at it. He has all the motivation and determination in the world, but appears to lack the aptitude. This is a huge setback for his life goals, and you can see in his haunted expression at dinner that he fears failure and his own weakness far more than any Titan.

This episode also presents the opportunity to spread out beyond our core trio to several interesting supporting characters, some of whom may well end up in the same unit as Eren. The aforementioned Sasha is a bit one note in her relentless pursuit of food, but Jean Kirstein’s honesty about wanting to join the military police so he can serve in the safe(r) interior provides a welcome contrast to Eren’s puffed-chest gung-ho act.

Even better though, Jean and Eren don’t just come to blows over the disagreement. A bell rings, and the two make up, perhaps aware that fighting each other is a waste of time. Then there’s Reiner Braun, who like Eren & Co. is one of the few cadets who has seen the Titans firsthand; in other words, who have seen hell.

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But the undisputed rockstar of this episode, and of the show so far, at least for me, is Mikasa Ackerman. We learn a little more about her intensely close, co-dependent bond with Eren; neither of them want to ever be apart from the other; both feed off of one another’s unique energy. She aces the OGM, makes someone fall in love with her just by walking past, looks awesome no matter what her length of hair is, and even owns Sasha by not surrendering her bread.

She also rejoices when Eren finally gets the OGM right (turns out he had a defective belt, but even managed to balance properly on that, proving he’s more than capable). But she’s also the only one who doesn’t see self-satisfaction in Eren’s face. She sees relief that he doesn’t have to leave her.

Not that he would have to: had he failed, she would have gone with him to the fields; Armin too, probably. Because if there’s one thing that’s working out for these three kids in this dastardly post-apocalyptic fiasco of a world, its the three of them sticking together.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 02

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Aki Tomoya is in a tough spot. He finds himself at a cafe with the girl who inspired him to finally start his grand dream of creating the ultimate dating sim, but while just about everything about Kato Megumi is perfectly fine, he is confounded by her utter lack of presence. The camera continues to be shy with her, focusing on just about anything but her, while her seiyu Yasuno Kiyono gives her a soft, measured wisp of a voice.

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Kato is utterly unremarkable, but so utterly unremarkable that an incredulous Tomoya simply can’t stop obsessing about her. But while she doesn’t have braids, glasses, or freckles like Tomoya’s fantasy, what’s so great about Kato’s character is that she’s really not as “normal” as Tomoya deems her to be; otherwise, she wouldn’t react so calmly to his many outbursts at the cafe. Dare I call her…meta-moe? Para-moe? A more attractive Ann Veal?

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Kato even assumes Tomoya is dating Eriri or Utaha (or both), since she sees them both through the window, looking none too pleased. They’re even more outraged to find that Tomoya ditched them for someone so…Her. This is the circle (sans Tomoya’s cousin) together for the first timebut neither of the two school beauties can behave themselves in front of Kato, and start leg-sparring under the table.

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In other words, she fades away and lets the louder girls take over the scene, to the point where she disappears completely without them (or me) even noticing, demonstrating her Stealth Mode for the first time. By golly, that girl can get lost in a crowd! And she didn’t even leave out of disgust; she just wanted another drink! Nothing fazes her!

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Still, as awesome as you and I already know Kato to be, Tomoya is still under the misguided impression he needs to “fix” her by imbuing her with moe conventions. The next day, a Saturday, he invites her to his house for “Dating Sim Heroine Boot Camp,” apparently completely unaware what he has on his hands here is a relationship with a 3D girl in the works. Naturally, Kato agrees to come without any reservations.

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Kato is further unflustered by being in a notorious otaku’s room (it’s exactly what she expected) and dutifully plays a dating sim he highly recommends all the way through while enduring his constant spoilers and commentary. That means they’re alone together in his room all day long. It’s astonishing how quickly time passes, and yet the amount of fun they’re both having simply hanging out together doing not much of anything is clear to see.

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Fueled by the fun he’s already had and the complete passivity Kato has exhibited (albeit a passivity laced with quick, sharp deadpan retorts), Tomoya decides to be a little adventurous and see just how far that passivity goes, by asking her to spend the night and play the sequel to the game she just finished.

His proposal, complete with him eliminating any need to worry about the ramifications (there’s no school tomorrow, his parents are out) plays both like an innocent request to keep hanging out, and something a little more adult. Kato, of course, is fine with whatever, though we do see her finally blush at Tomoya’s choice of words.

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Of course she is. Nothing fazes her. Perhaps that’s because, well, she simply likes Tomoya. Tomoya clearly likes her too. What Kato is, then is a very “boring” girlfriend in the making, but a damn good one, too. His night with her gives him the clarity and inspiration to know precisely what to tell Eriri and Utaha what he envisions for the game, next time he sees them. More importantly, gets a sleep-deprived Kato (and the change in her voice in this state is priceless) to agree to join his circle.

I foresee big, exciting things on the horizon for the game, for the relationship, and for this show, which, a prologue and two episodes in, has been above reproach. Kato may not stand out in any conventional way, but so far she’s the shining light bringing warmth to my Winter.

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Stray Observations:

  • I don’t want to understate just how well the show kept things interesting through character and dialogue in the most humdrum settings: a cafe and a bedroom.
  • n ongoing joke is the fact Tomoya is constantly acting like he’s just met Kato, while he’s actually known her more than a year.
  • Depsite his low opinion of himself, her opinion of him is quite high, naming him one of the school’s three celebrities, along with Eriri and Utaha.
  • One of the reasons for his popularity is the fact he screens anime at school…and we see that anime includes the prologue of the very show they’re in! Nice.

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  • Tomoya’s “Fantasy Kato”, who acts in all the ways he expects an ideal dating sim heroine to act, is also a nice cutaway touch.
  • Kato isn’t just a great character in her own right, but a symbol of the show’s raison d’etre, presenting all the conventions but subverting them wherever they can. It’s immensely refreshing
  • Throughout her long Saturday with Tomoya, Kato starts occupying more and more real estate in the frame until she’s sharing pretty much equal space with her host, and gets a lot more close-ups.