Saekano 2 – 05

After witnessing Megumi reject a request to date from another guy, Tomoya has to keep Utaha from being too harsh on Eriri, who has fallen way behind on the art despite a schedule extension.

Utaha now considers a Winter Comiket launch a “pipe dream” until proven otherwise, but Eriri promises she’ll make it, and Tomoya has her back…though saying “she’ll deliver exactly what you expect” probably wasn’t the best choice of words for an artist.

One morning, Eriri stops by Tomoya to tell him she’s going away to her family’s winter house in the woods to draw in seclusion, even skipping school to meet the deadline.

Tomoya seems more or less fine with this, but he—and I, for that matter—feel a foreboding atmosphere; like somehow Eriri won’t be coming back, or won’t be the same when she does.

Letting Eriri go “off into the wild” was a big, possibly fatal mistake, according to Utaha, who is ready with a whole “five-stages of creative deprivation” spiel with Tomoya and Megumi, predicting all the ways Eriri will stray from her usual self in her desperate attempt to make the greatest art ever with which to beat the Hashima siblings, ultimately leading to her dropping the project altogether and never being heard from again.

What with Utaha’s added “sixth stage” of Eriri finding another guy and another job and thus Tomoya won’t have to worry about her anymore (the implication being he can focus more on her), Tomoya is loath to take these predictions so seriously…even if they don’t sound so far-fetched.

Megumi proposes he and she go to the villa the Saturday before the Monday deadline, but Tomoya humbly declines, both due to the situation of a guy going away with two girls, but more importantly, because he has deadlines of his own to meet. Megumi lets the matter drop for now, but is already concerned that Eriri would go to such lengths to complete her work.

Just as Utaha foretold, Eriri starts exhibiting signs of stage one (rough language), and Tomoya is worried, since two (blaming herself) can’t be far off. Tomoya tries to play lip service by saying “he believes in her”, but what he’s asking Eriri to do has become increasingly unlikely, even for someone with her talent, because there’s too much pressure and not enough time to pull it off.

Tomoya’s attitude irks both Utaha and Megumi; and Utaha is doubly irritated that she has more respect for Kashiwagi Eri thant Tomoya right now. She puts a lot of words in his mouth, but he can’t or won’t dispute any of them. Tomoya is starting to look like a failing director.

But Eriri does eventually manage to make some progress in drastically changing her style, once it starts to snow. She and Utaha knew the grand route would need a different style, and Eriri isn’t the most versatile artist…but she works her butt off in that cabin and finally, apparently, has the necessary art ready.

Whether she actually does or not, I have no idea, honestly. All I know is, Eriri doesn’t look like she’s in a particularly good physical or mental state by the end of this episode. While Utaha got a degree of resolution in her episode, lying on the floor with Tomoya, Eriri finds herself lying on the floor alone, isolated in a snowy forest cabin, in need of food, sleep, and affection. Here’s hoping she gets all three, soon.

Saekano 2 – 04

Maybe it was because I was so tired, but I was off in my assessment of Tomoya’s assessment of Utaha’s script. It’s not that he demanded perfection; his true qualm lies in his exact words: “It’s a crap game.” Meaning, the script is written like a novel, and is thus unsuitable for a dating sim. This is why, as compelling as it is, it must be re-worked.

Of course, Tomoya delivers his criticism with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer through a plate glass window, and he and a still-stunned Utaha have a little shouting match in the maid cafe of what is otherwise, mercifully, a completely in-the-background school festival.

Tomoya is a rude ass about it, but he’s not wrong, and after making Utaha cry, Tomoya is contrite and assures her she did nothing wrong; it was he who failed as game director, getting sucked into the text without considering how it would fit in a dating sim structure.

As he attempts rewrites, Utaha sleeps in his beat, deflated from the rejection of her new arc, which, by the way, was an arc in which the character most resembling her gets the guy rather than the character resembling Megumi. Megumi calls Eriri to report Utaha’s whereabouts, but Eriri is unconcerned.

Eriri’s been in the boat Utaha’s in right now, and can relate, and in any case, she’s got a mountain of her own work to do, surrounded as she is by crumpled balls of art that don’t meet her standards or vision. Eriri isn’t even interested in entering the Miss Toyogasaki Pageant, despite being the reigning champ.

From there, it’s almost a purely Utaha-and-Tomoya episode, with the two combining forces in a creative odyssey during which Utaha gets so exhausted she falls asleep wearing only an open dress shirt and panties, much to the painfully oblivious Tomoya’s shock.

They re-work the Ruri path, then Tomoya gets it in his head he needs a third arc as well: one in which everyone lives happily ever after, which also seems to match what he wants in real life with Utaha and Megumi. While initially frustrated Tomoya wasn’t responding to her feelings, by the end she comes out confident they’ve made a stronger, more fun game by working together.

On the evening the festival ends, when the bonfire is about to be sparked, Megumi asks Utaha, her writing duties now complete, if Ruri is based on Sayuka from Metronome in Love. And she is; of course she is, because both of them are actually Utaha. And Utaha makes it clear she still hasn’t given up on the ending in which her character is chosen by the protagonist.

Megumi straightens out and her eyes focus upon hearing this, before bowing and heading down to the bonfire, where she romantically approaches Tomoya. Megumi tells him she’s not Megumi right now, she’s Ruri, Sayuka, and also…then takes his hand, and dances with him, as Eriri draws them and Utaha looks on. Lovely stuff.

Saekano 2 – 03

Tomoya and Eriri find themselves suddenly confronted by the Hashima siblings, whose Rouge en Rouge game company put out a demo of a game very similar to their own.

While Megumi does her best to keep things diplomatic, it isn’t long until Eriri and Izumi are coming to blows.

Sure, they’re low-impact blows, and each seems to want to empower the other to do their utmost to beat each other (at art, not physically), but then there’s the fact that, at the moment, I don’t much care particularly how well Blessing’s game does relative to Rouge’s.

Isn’t it enough that the team works hard and puts out a game they can be proud of, into which they put their blood, sweat, tears, and passion?

In between acting like she and Tomoya have been married for years, irking certain male classmates, Megumi is preoccupied and fired up by Utaha’s surprise story revision.

But the only way they’ll know whether it works or not, and which script to choose for the game, is by implementing it. That means a lot of work just to catch up to the Rouge demo, with no guarantee their output will surpass their rival’s.

When one all-nighter involving Tomoya and Megumi only nets 20% of the work, other measures need to be taken. When Michiru suddenly arrives, appalled that Megumi spent the night, Tomoya sees an opening, and asks his cousin to recruit her Icy Tail bandmates into doing the gruntwork necessary to plug Utaha’s new story into the game.

They pull a second all-nighter, and considering how late I’m writing this on a Thursday night, I can’t say I don’t relate to their exhausted state when they’ve completed their task.

All that work makes it that much more harsh a slap in the face when Tomoya meets with Utaha and utters the line above. Apparently, after story, art, music, and programming have been combined, neither of Utaha’s stories cut the mustard; at least not now that Tomoya is convinced Iori has a better story up his sleeve.

He requests a complete rewrite—certainly his prerogative as game director—but I assume Utaha is dismayed by his blunt assessment, as I was. In an attempt to outdo Rouge, could Tomoya be overplaying his hand? By demanding perfection when perfection may be unattainable, will he only end up driving his partners away one by one?

Saekano 2 – 02

Utaha has finished her script, and to celebrate has Tomoya take her out for a day of shopping, dining, and watching films that aren’t poorly-received (i.e. ghosty, shelly) live-action anime adaptations.

It’s a date, no doubt about it, at least as far as Eriri is concerned, observing the couple’s interactions from afar like, well, a stalker, with Megumi forced to tag along for plausible deniability.

But Utaha doesn’t merely toy with Mr. Ethical: she makes it a point to bring up the fact that now that the script is complete, her job with Blessing Software is also done, and she’s looking to the future.

She asks Tomoya his opinion not only on where she should attend university (out in Kansai or fifteen minutes away) as well as to pick which script should be used: she wrote two. She’s basically telling the director to choose a direction; not unreasonable.

When Eriri and Megumi meet with Tomoya (thanks to Megumi having a key to his place!) they see the ending and see Tomoya’s dilemma. Eriri both acknowledges Utaha’s artistry, comparing it to the Metronome of Love series she claims to have never read, while complaining that it’s a lot more work.

Still, she doesn’t automatically reject this new ending, nor does Megumi: they, like Utaha, leave it up to Tomoya. Sorry dude, gotta make some hard choices, and not everyone is going to be happy. Especially with Izumi’s doujin game already out there in demo form, living in the same genre as their game.

Saekano excels when Tomoya is one-on-one, as he is with the lovely Utaha most of this episode. But I also liked how their interactions were shadowed by Eriri and Megumi (especially the difference in Utaha and Eriri’s reactions to the movie, which chose a “childhood friend-friendly”, and thus Eriri-friendly, ending).

I can’t say whether the script of Saekano is cliched per se; all I can say is that it is unafraid of commenting on the very genre and medium it exists in, or of being almost self-back-pattingly self-referential and irreverent of those institutions.

But the dialogue is expertly delivered by the actors, and the character design is strong, so even if this show’s ‘weakness’ is its script (which I’m not saying is the case), it’s more than capable of making up for it in other areas, which makes this show enjoyable to watch on any given week.

But I don’t think it needs a live-action adaptation.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 10

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Except for the battle at the very end, this episode was even quieter than the last, but also another episode that reminds you in no uncertain terms that This ain’t your Daddy’s Gundam—and it’s all the better for it. Last week was about forming a new family with Teiwaz. The Turbines are still with Tekkadan, but will set them loose on their own before long. This week is heavy with introspection and backstory, but all of it happens to be top-shelf stuff, thanks to a powerful, often tear-inducing script by Okada Mari.

I don’t want it to sound like this was a tear-jerker start to finish: in fact, there were just as many tears of joy over what Tekkadan & Co. have now achieved and their bright future than there were tears of sadness or longing over dark pasts. Laughs, too: all of a sudden Euguene think’s he’s an expert on women and looks down on the still “orphaned” Orga, who claims not to care about women, because he already has a family.

Meanwhile, those who have families outside Tekkadan like Biscuit and Takaki listen to their messages in private so as not to be insensitive to those who have no other family or who lost them long ago. The two share the dream of sending their bright sisters to school so they can one day be strong enough to stand on their own. The Isaribi has really become a home too, judging by all the hand-painted symbols on the walls.

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As a family, Tekkadan grows a little more complex, as Naze introduces Orga to the Teiwaz liason officer that will be joining his crew: Merribit Stapleton, with whom Orga had his meet-cute last week while drunk. Like all newcomers, Orga is cautious, and Merribit’s warm friendly manner with him will take getting used to, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment these two shared, particularly their elevator scene.  Orga may “just” be obeying orders by “tolerating” a “Teiwaz stooge”, to put it indelicately, but Merribit might just want to be friends too, and I look forward to her continuing to work with, and work on, young Orga.

Kudelia got a message from her mother, as well, but it wasn’t an encouraging one; her mom wants her to stop all this troubling silliness and come home. I don’t think her mom is simply relaying her husband’s sentiments, but expressing her own sheltered, deeply-aloof, “leave everything to others” nature. Then Kudelia asks about Atra’s parents, putting her own troubles into perspective.

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Atra tells Kudelia a dark tale of an orphan who did chores at a nightclub/brothel for food, but wasn’t very good at it, so never had enough to eat. Unlike many girls like her who likely grew up and became prostitutes for better pay at the club, she ran away, and quickly found out the outside world was even worse, but for one thing: she was free out there.

By chance, she was sitting on a stoop, trying to gather the strength to get back up, when she spotted a young Mika across the street, chowing down. Mika, who by then had also  learned a bit about the world, tells her she can’t have any, and that only those who work get to eat. Atra knows the score, and doesn’t beg. She just looks defiantly at Mika and tells him she will work, before fainting.

Because Mika does have a heart, though, he tells the shopkeeper about Atra, and gets her a job. Now we know Atra doesn’t just admire Mika from afar: Mika saved her when she had nothing. And not just with an isolated handout of a fish, but by getting her the means to fish herself.

From that point on, Mika became someone very important to her—so important, that Atra looks at Naze’s harem, and sees how it could theoretically work for both her and Kudelia to be the mothers of Mika’s children. Of course, she’s getting a bit ahead of herself, but it’s fun to see her thought process; not to mention I needed something to laugh at after that tear-inducing flashback.

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Just as Atra’s story beat Kudelia’s for pure initial despair, Akihito’s beat’s Atra’s. I was amazed they were able to stuff one more story into this episode, but I was very glad for it, especially since it ended by tying everything together. While Takaki was with Biscuit talking about their sisters, he was throwing a lot of standard death flags by talking so excitedly about a future he feels he can reach. Out here, he’s a little more subdued with Akihito out of consideration; but Akihito saw him and Biscuit before, and it reminded him of his own brother, Masahito.

Before he was “human debris” (God, how I hate that awful term), he and his brother helped out aboard a ship where their parents worked. It was attacked by pirates (the same kind of pirates the Turbines warn Tekkadan about), his parents killed, and he was separated from his brother and sold. Just when you thought your tear ducts were safe, too.

Akihito laments that he forgot about Masahito for so long, and doubts he’s still alive, but Takaki thinks otherwise, and now that Tekkadan has the backing of Teiwaz, anything is possible. Even Akihito believes this a bit, unconsciously, as Laffter notices he’s no longer fighting like he has a death wish in the simulator.

Just how much that alliance means comes into focus immediately after Akihito’s story is done, when pirates ambush them. This is where I’d expect a lesser show to act on Takaki’s death flags, but GIBO isn’t that kind of show. Instead, it plays a card it had held since the cold open: Tekkadan left Mika behind so that mods on the Barbatos could be completed, at which point he’s more than capable of quickly catching up.

That’s what he does here to bail out Akihito and Takaki. As with Atra years ago, Mika is more often than not, There When You Need Him. And pirates who would prey on Tekkadan will soon learn that the Iron-Blooded Orphans aren’t ones to be messed with.

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Ao Haru Ride – 02

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When I think back on it, this show’s first episode had its protagonist in a very dark place. Of course, high school can be a dark place for a sizable chunk of youths; a place where you compromise and do what you have to do to just get through it; where you take advice given years ago about “always getting along with your friends” and you make that happen at any cost, because the alternative is being all alone.

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In other words, it’s a pact you make with yourself, and it’s a pact we thought Futaba would continue to honor for some time, both much to our chagrin and, evidently to Mabuchi’s as well. While he’s still hard to read, his words to Futaba about Asumi and Chie being “friends in name only” created a small fissure in the “High School Armor” she’d spent so much time and effort polishing; getting lost in its sheen and forgetting important things like emotional connections and trust.

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Those cracks spread when Futaba finds Makita—a girl who acts all cutesy around guys like she used to and pays for it by having to eat outside in the cold, alone—to have a perfectly reasonable explanation for why she acts the way she does—because that’s just who she is. She’d rather bear the petty ire of her peers than cease being her natural self. She doesn’t deserve the treatment she’s getting, but no one said high school was fair.

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That’s when Futaba, with her now badly-cracked armor, sits down with Asumi and Chie, and she suddenly can’t suffer any more bile directed at Makita. The real Futaba bursts out of the tatters of that false armor, giving her “friends” a thorough piece of her mind, thereby losing them in the process. But good riddance: real friends should be able to be themselves around one another. Futaba couldn’t be that around them, so they weren’t meant to be friends.

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She realizes this too, so it doesn’t hurt much when her relationship with the other two girls is officially rescinded. But while she lost those two vapid gossips, she gained a lot more: the respect, attention, and even affection of Mabuchi Kou (who she finally starts calling “Kou” rather than Tanaka, since that’s his name now), a new, real friend in Makita…and our regard as well. I gotta say; girl did good this week. I’m glad Kou realized that too, giving her a cute hug through the window, shielding her teary-eyed face from passersby.

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Her gesture to cast away the artifice of “getting along at any cost” and its fallout may have been modest in the grand scheme of things, but right here and now, in the jungles of high school, it was a significant, life-altering achievement. And no doubt Mabuchi was a catalyst for that change, whether he intended to be or not. I’m now hopeful there’s something about him that she can fix…no need to keep things one-sided!

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Ao Haru Ride – 01

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Futaba and Tanaka were both quiet, shy, unassuming middle school students. Then Futaba assumed that Tanaka would show up for their date after she yelled “I hate all guys!” in the hallway. He didn’t, then suddenly moved away, because of HER his parents moved. Even though nothing ever came of it, Futaba maintains Tanaka was her first love.

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Fast-forward to non-watercolor present, where Futaba is in the third term of her first year of high school. Little does she know her beloved Tanaka is not only there, but has been all year; he’s just not “Tanaka” anymore, having recently escaped from a secret lab that experimented on him with drugs and implants changed his name to Mabuchi after his parents divorced.

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He’s also taller and hunkier, which is one reason why Futaba never noticed him until the third term. Another big reason is that she wasn’t looking for him, and she was too busy reinventing her personality to fit in with her peers. When she was cute and girly, she got dumped on, so now she maintains a tomboyish persona so as not to offend anyone and risk their ire.

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It’s served her well, but it still seems like a goofy performance she shouldn’t have to force herself to do, let alone get used to, to the point when she can no longer separate who she is from who she’s pretending to be. And while she just noticed Futaba, he’s known she was there all along, and while he feigns indifference, he seems to disapprove of what’s she’s doing.

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While we know a lot less about what makes Mabuchi tick, it’s clear he made some changes of his own, ostensibly to fit in better with his peers. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was caught off guard by her hopeful, excited reaction to finding out he was “Tanaka.” His cold attitude could be more a sign of fluster and frustration it took this long than genuine acrimony.

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The road ahead for these two looks rather rocky; with Mabuchi making some very definitive statements like “that was in the past” right out of the gate. The fact of the matter is, Futaba’s pleasant, if somewhat forced, high school life has been upheaved, and I’m sure the more attention she pays to a guy instead of stuffing her face like a clown, the more she’ll see who among the girls is really her friend and who isn’t (hint: probably not a lot of them.)

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Is this a ride worth staying on? Too early to say. There were some decent moments of comedy and teen drama. It’s certainly very pretty, and the character designs are appealing (as long as you’re not weirded out by everyone’s very round, expressive eyes). But this is a jam-packed Summer season. Both this and Glasslip were serviceable but not outstanding. And between Kimi ni Todoke and Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, I’ve already watched my fair share of above-average rom-coms that enjoyed better starts. So we’ll see.

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Hanasaku Iroha 25

On the eve of the Bonbori festival, it appears that Kissuiso is overbooked. The staff is overworked, accidents are happening, and everyone is more focused on “winning” the battle with the Madam Manager. Ohana is caught in the middle, but little by little, everyone realizes they don’t have the guests’ comfort at heart. When Tomoe sprains her ankle, The manager fills in, Ohana’s mom volunteers to help, and they get back to “festing it up”, rather than just grinding.

The Battle for Kissuiso was fought for all the wrong reasons. Last week I sided with the staff for wanting to keep the inn open, not thinking about how it would have to change to become profitable. This week, I was on Ohana’s side, who was basically on her own side. The frantic inn where the customers’ needs were obstacles to overcome was not the Kissuiso she loved. Overwork was making the staff short with her, and clumsy in their duties. Tomoe’s ankle sprain provided the catalyst to snap everyone out of it. Jiromaru’s corny narration was icing on the cake.

On the evening of the festival, Sui, Satsuki, and Ohana marching three abreast down the hall is a triumphant sight, and unlike the first half of the episode, everyone is working like a well-oiled machine. Not only that, they’re enjoying what they’re doing, rather than just doing it mindlessly in the pursuit of profit. This was a great final “inn arc” episode that brough everything and everyone together beautifully, and was simply oozing with emotions. It’s still in the air whether Kissuiso can make it, but it seems the finale will deal primarily with Ohana and Ko.


Rating: 4