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.

Saekano 2 – 01

“Why are things so bad between them?” asks Mr. Awful Thick-Headed Deaf Protagonist, AKA Aki Tomoya, referring to the near constant bickering and fierce competition between Eriri and Utaha. Cue a flashback to a year ago when the two rivals first meet, and Eriri learns Utaha is not only the author of the “Metronome In Love” novels she enjoys with Tomoya, but that she’s trying to snatch her Tomoya away.

Eriri tries in vain to steer Utaha away from Tomoya, while Utaha is irritated to learn how well Tomoya knows his childhood friend Eriri. Utaha brings Eriri up to Tomoya because she’s “interested in knowing more about her”, meaning she’s eager to gather info on a foe.

For all the contempt Eriri and Utaha have spewed at one another throughout last season, they are nonetheless connected by a strong underlying mutual respect. They’re not just foes, but worthy foes. And however much they may differ in creative philosophy, neither can deny the other’s obvious talent, or even be a bit envious of it, considering they excel in different areas (Eriri art, Utaha words).

Utaha learns that Eriri’s motivated by revenge for all the frustration she’s suffered having to hide her talent away beneath a pristine social facade; while Eriri believes she has the haughty Utaha figured out as a cold, calculating ice queen who looks down upon and manipulates her fans with her technique. Neither is wrong!

So back in the present, while they’re still bickering as fiercely as when they first met (with Tomoya as the totem of their rivalry), they can still acknowledge one another’s skill and passion for their craft, and can agree with Tomoya when he says theirs could be a collaboration for the ages.

The praise and enthusiasm of the guy they both like makes it easier for them to look past their surface hate for one another, and the value in working together, even if it’s not always, or ever, smooth sailing.

When Tomoya requests an illustration by Eriri autographed by both her and Utaha as Kashiwagi Kazumi, Eriri, Utaha, and Megumi also requests autographed illustrations. The apparent mortal enemies proudly hang them in their homes, proving their respect and admiration for one another beyond any doubt, even if they’d never ever say it to each other’s faces.

Saekano 2 – 00

Saekano is back, baby! And it has not changed its ways, no sir. In its Episode 00 special, it doubles down on the enticing Episode 00 of its predecessor, piling on the fan service thick and garnishing with witty banter.

We arrive in the middle of an argument between Eriri and Utaha about an anime they disagree about, and again they seem to be talking about the very anime they’re in, and whether it’s deserving of a second season. After this first taste, I’d tend to agree with Eriri.

Like the hot springs episode 00 of last season, all the girls are after Aki’s attentions in one way or another, and everyone remains consistent in their respective approaches: Michiru with the cousin angle, Eriri with the childhood friend angle, Utaha with the Mr. Ethical schtick, and Megumi with the stealthiness and running commentary. Saekano 2 adds Hashima Izumi, another childhood friend of Aki’s and a fan of Eriri’s, to the mix, because hey, why not?

At a hotel in Odaiba overlooking the Rainbow Bridge and Statue of Liberty (yes, Tokyo has its own small one) the game-making group has gathered, and donned swimsuits because Megumi wouldn’t pose in a bikini unless everyone else was so attired. Aki has zero designs on spending the night, but when all the girls but Utaha end up in the room and she’s nowhere to be found, it’s clear she’s used her power of the purse to arrange things so she’d end up alone with Aki.

She claims to have only poured ginger ale for Aki and herself, but he has the sneaking suspicion it’s actual alcohol, and we know how that turned out for him and the girls at the hot spring. Unfortunately for Utaha (but fortunate for everyone else), while she turned her phone off, Aki’s remains on, and the gig is up. Utaha has not given up, but I wonder how far she realistically thinks she can get with such schemes.

At first Michiru only seem to be here to do pool suplexes on her cousin and put him in holds that mean something a lot different now that they’ve both grown, but it turns out she’s been working hard like Eriri and Utaha, writing not one but ten pieces of BGM for the game so far. As she gives the others a sample, her work has a motivating effect on the artists and scriptwriter, and they whip out their own tools of the trade and get to work as Izumi looks on in awe.

That leaves Megumi free to slip out and admire Tokyo Bay with Aki, among many other couples. For all the attempts of the others in the harem, it’s clear who truly has the upper hand, and she makes it look effortless as usual. For all the inappropriate contact Aki endured from Michiru, the advances from Utaha, the hugs from Izumi, and the reminiscing with Eriri, simply standing close but not too close beside his heroine seems to be ideal for Aki.

The other girls may be shapely and beautiful (and the camera never lets us forget it) but Megumi’s appeal just seems to run deeper and fuller. I look forward to seeing how she, Aki, and the others traverse their relationships with each other as the development of their dating sim progresses. And the only people who would sit there and find faults in someone’s hard work are pathetic losers who have forgotten how to enjoy life!!!

Fate/Grand Order: First Order

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“Who are you callin’ a foo?”
What do we have here? A Fate/stay night spin-off involving a time-travelling, future-saving organization. The first fifteen minutes are full of interminably dull introductions and info-dumping, including those of the supposed two leads, Fujimaru and Mash, who are also dull.

There’s also Fou, a weird white squirrel thingy that wears clothes, makes awful high-pitched sounds, and generally doesn’t need to exist, and Director Olga Aminusphere, who aside from having an obnoxious name, seems like a low-rent Tousaka Rin.

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When the doctor’s the highest-ranked officer left in your compound, time to start worrying
First Order essentially blows up that dull beginning by putting Fujimaru and Mash in an emergency situation that has them travelling back to 2004 where the outcome of a standard Fate-style Holy Grail War has ended up suspended for some reason.

Mash becomes a demi-servant prior to dying, with the inexperienced “commoner” Fujimaru becoming her master, to the chagrin of the aristocratic Olga.

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Dark Saber – Almost worth the price of admission
The two dull protagonists must, with the limited help of Olga and a lot of help from a particularly helpful (and badass) Caster, take out the remaining “dark” versions of Archer and Saber, in order to end the Holy Grail War and correct the singularity that is dooming humanity’s future.

If that sounds a bit vague, it is. And while there’s a bit of a thrill seeing the heroic spirits back in action, albeit on different sides, it’s all a bit bloodless. No, not literally; there’s plenty of blood, but the dead, empty city isn’t the most exciting stage for otherwise cool-looking battles.

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“Look Mash, I’m helping!”
Mash’s transformation into demi-servant may have been a sign of her inner courage and toughness, and her new dominatrixy outfit is pretty boss, but neither she nor Fujimaru manage to ever make me care all that much about them or their sudden newfound friendship, as they’re less actual characters and more combinations of character traits. Takahashi Rie and Shimazaki Nobunaga try their best, but simply don’t have enough to work with here.

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And aside from a few nice images and some competent action, the most striking thing about this Fate spin-off is its lack of the same distinct visual sumptuousness of Unlimited Blade Works (to date the only other Fate property I’ve watched), due to this not being a ufotable series, and clearly having a smaller budget to work with.

Placing the fate of humanity’s future on the shoulders of two barely-there, uninspiring characters we barely got to know in over an hour-long special just doesn’t provide the gravity or stakes it should. As we’re between seasons, I had time to check this out, so I did. And it was…okay. In all, it feels like a superfluous wade into the shallow end of the Fate franchise pool, rather than a deep or meaningful dive.

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Barakamon – 11

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“All Work and No Play” – that’s what Handa Seishuu was before traveling to the island. All that work was preventing him from experiencing life and stifling his calligraphy.That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if the director provoked the punch that sent Sei away on purpose, conspiring with Sei’s dad to get the lad out of his hermetically-sealed comfort zone of Tokyo to a place where he would find new inspiration and where his talents could expand and blossom.

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Whether it was all planned or the grown-ups used the punch as an excuse, the gambit paid off nicely, as Handa Seishuu is not only doing far more interesting work, but is also a more humble, caring, present person. Of course his growth doesn’t stop him from splashing tea on his “star” masterpiece just seconds before the director has a chance to bestow a grand prize appraisal of it. In other words, it was good enough for the exhibition, but now it’s ruined, so he must come up with another, even better piece.

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The first we see of Seishuu in this episode, he’s very stern and distant-looking in a suit on a train platform, carrying over the somewhat “stranger-ish” nature of his sudden departure from the island without a word. Thankfully, as soon as he interacts with Kawafuji we see he’s the same old overdramatic overreacting man-child we know and love. And it’s actually not a bad thing to wreck what would have been his exhibition submission, since it challenges him to repeat the brilliance with new constraints of time and location.

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It doesn’t go well at first. At his stately traditional-style family home, surrounded by the bustling city, Seishuu finds he simply can’t write the way he did on the island. Trying to have Kawafuji and Kousuke role play as villagers doesn’t cut it, either. Kawafuji determines the only way to get anything out of Seishuu is to bring the villagers to him…via telephone. Hearing everyone’s voices brightens his mood and sparks his imagination, and after pulling another all-nighter, he seems confident he’s again achieved excellence.

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We don’t get to see that piece yet, but all I know for sure is that this episode achieved excellence for sure. It was an elegant, uncompromising blend of side-splitting comedy (mostly at Seishuu’s expense) and affecting drama—elements not uncommon in any episode of Barakamon but taken up a notch here, and augmented by the fresh setting and hectic circumstances. Seishuu looks to be in good shape for the exhibition, and hopefully he’ll be back in the village at some point during the finale.

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Pretty much around the time Yuina was jumping out of a second-story window and she and Ohana were getting riddled with bullets, I started to wonder exactly what this film was about, anyway. Well, it didn’t matter, because it was all a scam. The funny thing is, hardly any of the staff skip a beat about it. Especially Ohana’s spirits remain high.

Of course, there are some bruised egos. Takako feels like a fool and rightly so for advising Enishi, and rightly so, but initially tries to run away and pin all the blame on him. Their long, complicated relationship reaches a catharsis of sorts, in the pool, of all places, where a memory of Enishi’s still drives him.

When his perfect sister is out-swimming him in the pool, he looks up at the sky and sees two jet fighters screaming across the sky; one trailing the other. Like he trails her. But after some whining and lamenting, Enishi eventually sucks it up, takes the blame, and even calls for revenge. He doesn’t regret trying to elevate Kissuiso’s standing with a film. He’d do it all again if given the opportunity.

His scenes with Takako, his mom, and his phone call with his sis are easily the best things going here; it’s a shame no cameras were turned on his drama. Contrast this with Ohana, Minchi and Nako’s roles, which were really tiny and peripheral these past couple weeks. So far this season, Ohana has taken a backseat to Yuina and now Enishi.


Rating: 3.5

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It’s lonely at the top…or at least one step below the top. Like Yosuke last week, the manager’s son Enishi is a boss – not the boss – at the moment, but one day Kissuiso – or whatever’s left of it – will be his. Not just his inn but the entire town of Yunosagi is struggling to survive in the cutthroat Japanese hospitality industry.

He hired Takako as a consultant to help come up with crazy ideas to create revenue and/or buzz. And to her credit, Takako hasn’t torn the traditions of the inn to shreds. And now it seems she’s helped reel in a director interested in making a film on the premises, and even letting the staff audition for roles. Nothing like a film to create buzz for a location.

This plan is not without risk, and there’s no sure guarantee it will help the inn. Enishi even shoos away other innkeepers wanting a piece of the action, firmly stating it will be a Kissuiso film alone. To some, this means putting the PR fate of the entire town on his inn’s – and his – shoulders. But in doing so, assuming success, Enishi may finally step out of his sister Satsuke’s (Ohana’s mom’s) vast shadow.

His mother seems to be giving him his chance. If he screws up, it will only justify his lack of faith in himself, and (what he perceives as) her lack of faith in him. Looking at her with typical younger sibling’s eyes, Satsuke seemed to him like a more advanced form of human (note how dolphin-like she seems in his daydreams) – which is particularly amusing considering we (and Ohana) know all too well how flawed she truly is. But whether he’s chasing reality or merely an ideal, Enishi has never seemed more assertive.

Oh yeah, the girls just play with the hose in the drained pool this week…so they’re suddenly twelve now…I guess. Rating: 3.5