Little Witch Academia – 03

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The heart-pounding and heartwarming fun of LWA continues as its third episode is all about broom flight, or, for the first two-thirds of it, about how totally unable to fly Akko is. No matter how hard she “focuses” or how loudly she says the magic words, gravity won’t release her from the ground.

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She’s wanted to fly her whole life, and proudly bears the scars that prove it. As Akko fails and fails again, you can feel her frustration mounting, especially once she learns there’s to be a broom relay and Diana is the favorite to win. There’s the sense Akko is right on the cusp of a magical breakthrough, but just needs something to go her way and complement her boundless passion.

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After some last-ditch “training” that seems more designed to amuse Sucy than help Akko, the relay begins, and thanks to some magical trickery and research on the competition, Sucy is able to get Lotte out to a sizable lead that she then extends. Then it’s Akko’s turn, and Sucy lends her a potion that turns her broom into a ribbiting pogo stick. As Diana says with disgust, it ain’t pretty.

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Then, the feral broom in the magical items cafe Akko wanted to try out rejects the one who stole/purchased it (Amanda) and takes an interest in Akko. It makes her fight tooth and nail to stay on, and tries to throw her off many times, but Akko won’t let go, and it takes her on a magical ride through homes, under oceans, and through the sky at jetliner speeds.

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LWA truly brings the fun and the wonder, whether it’s the sweeping sights of Akko’s detour or her veritable galaxy of inventive acrobatics and contortions. She doesn’t win – the broom handles break off and the broom turns into a bird and flies off – but she comes in a close second, once again commanding Diana’s grudging respect.

As Diana says, Akko’s got passion. I daresay she’s brimming with moxie as well. Will it be enough? Ursula looks at her younger self in the trophy case, and maybe sees Akko going down a similar path. And she seems worried. But I wouldn’t rule out Akko continuing to surprise everyone—even her apparently disillusioned idol.

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Flying Witch – 11

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Flying Witch goes big with the magic this week, and Makoto, Akane, and Chinatsu have a…ahem…whale of a time. An ethereal postman delivers the newspaper for the witching world, and news comes that a whale will be flying over Aomori soon. The girls fly out on their brooms early in the morning to try to spot it. And flying witches on Flying Witch are always welcome!

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The massive stone whale is also a Laputa-esque flying island covered in gardens and fish pools, and extensive ruins, and when the girls gain access to the “flight deck” they find Shiina Anzu, budding archaeologist, already there exploring.

There’s a palpable sense of awe and grandeur to the big flying whale, and the segment owes much to films like Castle in the Sky, but with FW’s own easygoing atmosphere. Yes, this is a big deal, and everyone’s stoked about being on this whale, but there’s no possibility of harm or of anything sinister happening.

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Despite being abandoned long ago, the whale is a bringer of joy and wonder to everyone’s hearts. But the girls can’t just stay up there forever; for one thing, stomachs are starting to growl. So they say goodbye to their new giant flying friend and head to Casa Kuramoto for the newest installment of Kei’s Cooking Corner. Anzu joins Makoto, Akane and Chinatsu, and gets to see her anthropology mentor, the wise and well-traveled Kenny.

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From flying on brooms to exploring floating whale ruins to conversing with cats, this episode gave me my magical fix, so the addition of some down-home hotcake-making and eating was the icing on the cake, as was the arrival of Anzu’s owl familiar with a lengthy bill for Akane from Anzu’s Mom’s cafe. Better scrounge together some cash to pay that, big sis!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try Kei’s method of layering batter to make thicker hotcakes. It’s such a simple technique I feel pretty dumb for never thinking to augment my frisbee-thin pancakes…

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Houkago no Pleiades – 02

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Pleiades is undeniably pretty and inoffensive show, but at the end of two episodes the forgiving sheen of newness has worn off, revealing what is (and was from the start, really) a fairly lightweight and highly derivative affair.

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Whether being very reminiscent of a show I’ve already watched is grounds for dropping depends on the show it reminds me of, and in this case, Pleiades is at a a distinct disadvantage. It’s directed by the same guy who helmed FLCL, while its obvious thematic and aesthetic inspiration would appear be Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

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Pleiades isn’t nearly as original as Fooly nor as dark and profound as Puella, and if we’re honest, contributes virtually nothing new to stand apart from either. But to be fair, both those shows cast huge shadows…and despite its directorial pedigree and familiar milieu, it’s also not really trying to approach the greatness of those singular classics.

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Rather, it’s content to have a good old time bringing two rootable former friends, who aren’t quite sure why they forgot one another or got split up in the first place, back together. Subaru and Aoi are the focus of this episode, with the latter giving the former flying lessons.

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Again, there’s nothing either deep or groundbreaking, but the two co-leads still made me care about them reconnecting, and indeed its the power of their friendship, and a mutually-remembered song, that nets them two big engine fragments for their alien president.

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Then Minato swoops in and snatches one, and here’s where the show falls down a bit. While he seems to be a nice enough kid in that hidden fountain garden room, to the point he almost resembles a potential love interest for Subaru, his complete character shift to sinister bully feels arbitrary, not to mention repetitive.

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Until there’s a little more revealed about why he’s picking on the girls and Subaru in particular, Minato will remain a rather dull enigma. But despite his sabotage, the girls are making progress, and have even secured a room at their school under the aegis of the official establishment of the “Cosplay Research Club”; as good a cover for a group of magical schoolgirls as any!

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Houkago no Pleiades – 01 (First Impressions)

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FLCL is one of our favorites here in the office—I know I often check Craigslist for used Vespas—and Zane is a fan of the first Medaka Box. So when the director of both is involved with a new show, we at least take a look. And my first impressions of it are pretty good.

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So what have we got? A solid, straightforward, and earnest new entry in the magical girl genre, with enough self-awareness of the legacy it’s carrying on and including enough unique details to keep it interesting. This show will never be accused of inventing the wheel with regards to its character types or the situations they find themselves in, so it comes down to those details, technical execution, and how it makes me feel.

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For those who want a quick(ish) synopsis, here goes: Subaru (pink hair) is a relatively unremarkable, slightly slow and clumsy girl who loves stargazing and ends up invited into a secret club of classmates, including her former friend Aoi (blue hair) by their president (a jellyfish-lke alien).

The balance of the quintet is made up of Itsuki (raven hair), Nanako (lilac), and Hikaru (orange). There’s also a sickly dude Subie meets who has crimson hair. Whatever your favorite color—or hat type, for that matter—there’s a girl for you!

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We follow Subaru through her brisk initiation, which half-explains things along the way, because even the already initiated know very little about exactly what’s going on. For those not aware, Subaru is the Japanese term for the constellation Pleiades, and also the brand name for Fuji Heavy Industries’ automobile division, with the constellation as their logo.

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Some of HnP’s amusing details may only appeal to gear/petrolheads or owners, but Subaru’s family owns a Subaru R1, and the front ends of the broom-like “drive shafts” they use to fly resemble the front fascias of various Subaru models. Whether this is stealthy product placement or simply the creators’ love of the marque, I for one love Subarus, so I’m glad they made the connection.

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Whether it’s flying over them in airplanes or bursting through them in a movie or tv show, there’s something awe-inspiring about the cloudtops at dusk, especially when there’s a big rainstorm just below them. That breathlessness is captured perfectly when Subaru’s drive shaft shoots her into the stratosphere, followed closely by her new comrades, in order to capture an engine fragment of their alien president’s spaceship.

They fail on their first try, and indeed have never succeeded up to that point, but when Subaru realizes Aoi doesn’t know what she’s doing any more than she does, she finds her confidence and leads them back, and this time they succeed in cutting off, degenerating, and finalizing the fragment, all terms that are intentionally not expanded upon, because there’s no time for elaborate explanations, even if the other girls had them, which they don’t.

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Enter the good/bad antagonist: when Subaru is attacked by a “dark shooting star”, the crimson-headed bishonen Minato saves her from falling, but steals the fragment away, as if in payment. However, the fact of the matter is, Subaru, slow and clumsy she may be, was the group’s missing piece, and she even manages to score a mini consolation fragment. The episode closes with the new quintet watching the meteor shower Subaru had been looking forward to all day.

I was looking forward to HnP as soon as I heard about it, and while it wasn’t life-changingly fantastic, it was a solid, colorful, entertaining effort with a hearty helping of whimsy, which is easy on the eyes (unlike Sailor Moon Crystal, which I couldn’t quite get through) but not too taxing on the ol’ noggin. An ideal show for hump day.

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