Sousei no Onmyouji – 25

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I was hoping for some kind of movement of the Sae mystery—will she turn out to be the Big Bad, Kuranashi?—here at the halfway point of the show (assuming it only goes 50 episodes). Instead, we got another relatively generic dragon spot-of-the-week, this time a big one that opens in the middle of a domed baseball stadium in Aichi. Chief among the hordes of kegare that emerge is our Basara-of-the-week, Yamato, who creates a giant kegare suit to stomp around and fight in.

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Joining the Basara-of-the-week are the Twelve Guardians-of-the-week, Ioroi Nasumi and Kasukami Cordelia, who like Yamato are painted in the broadest of strokes due to the time constraints. Ioroi can’t help but laught heartily before saying anything, while Cordelia speaks with electronic voice in single English words she spells out first. Okay, sure, why not?

The guardians meet with Roku and Benio, then go off to fight Yamato’s giant kegare suit with Cordelia’s giant celestial suit; a tactic we haven’t seen from exorcists before.

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They don’t fare too well though, and before long Roku and Benio realize that “what they need to do” is what they, like the former ace pitcher, and only they can do: close the spot.

They do so, getting a small (microscopic) assist from the old pitcher in the process, and in doing so, gain the respect of two more Guardians, who, like Yamato, wander off in the end, leaving Roku, Benio, and Sae free to tackle the next crisis-of-the week.

I’m putting myself on record as not being the greatet fan of this latest string of episodes; they tell small stories that aren’t really progressing the protagonists’ development in any meaningful way. Not to mention Sae continues to be head-scratcher the show is annoyingly in no hurry to resolve.

Of the 25 episodes of SnO I’ve watched, only 12 have scored 8 or higher. If that trend continus, that means a minimum of 24 sub-recommended episodes when all’s said and done. That’s a lot of mediocrity to sift through, and I’m quietly starting wonder whether it’s worth it.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 24

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SnO continues its episodic format as Roku, Benio, and Sae continue their “country tour” across the country, sealing dragon spots as they go. Last week was a bit of a drag, but this week presents us with Lio, not yet a Basara but by far the least hostile Kegare we’ve yet encountered.

The “non-evil enemy” is a fairly common convention, but it’s well-executed here, as Sae becomes the non-hostile go-between that allows for a moment of peace between warring species, however brief.

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I like how Roku and Benio’s instincts have them shooting Leo on sight, especially when they find Sae with her. But all it takes is a word from Sae, and Leo won’t fight with the exorcists anymore. All he wants is to “see something beautiful”; indeed, it seems to be his only purpose in life. We’ve never seen a Basara just before they became a Basara, so this is new and fresh territory in terms of building the (other)world of the show.

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Roku even ceases charging Leo on sight when he sees tears in the Kegare’s eyes. Somehow, right on cue, the amusement park comes to life, and the seed Roku planted in Sae’s head (and Sae planted in Leo’s) of a “sparkly, beautiful” place comes to fruition…just in time for Leo to get pierced through the chest by an arrow of light.

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That arrow was fired by Sada Sakura, who along with Zeze Miku are members of the 12 Guardians, who don’t know why Roku and Benio are just standing around with a near-Basara. They’re very far away, and allow no time for explanations, shooting first like the Twins, but with far deadlier attacks.

Zeze could be fun if she wasn’t just a deadpan foil for the manic Sada, whose yelling and passion for RULUSU wears thin fast. As for Sae, she flashes a look we see, but Roku and Benio don’t: a knowing expression that, like her ability to learn and make things so easily, is far beyond her years (if she is indeed a little kid and not…something else).

R.I.P. Leo. You were threatening at first, but in the end you were an ‘ol softie, and you were okay by me. Glad you got to see something beautiful before you were taken out.

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Ushio to Tora – 15

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This week’s UtT starts out in deliciously absurd fashion as Ushio is once again a passenger on a runaway vehicle—this time a bus being controlled by Hakumen’s lesser youkai minions, the hiyou. One or two of them are no problem, but as this arc has proven, get enough of them together and they’re a menace.

When they learn of Ushio’s latest dilemma, Nagare and Tora both race to the speeding bus, and the three then use a neat bit of teamwork to rescue the 40+ passengers. It involves Nagare slicing off the ends of the bus, Tora blowing out the people, and Nagare catching them with a magic barrier. Then Ushio stops the bus by stabbing the Hiyou with the spear.

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The passengers are safe, with no serious injuries, but Ushio is racked by guilt over what happened to them and how much worse things could have potentially gotten. But it’s a burden the wielder of the beast spear must bear, and Nagare doesn’t want to see his pathetic face, so he  starts asking him about the girls in his life, and Ushio’s scowl turns into a blush.

Nagare, Ushio, and Tora then encounter what looks like a group of Stigs, but are actually former potential spear wielders who didn’t make the cut. They include the long golden-haired biker girl Moritsuna Jun, whose big brother Satoru is an onmyou master and one of the four chosen along with Nagare and Hinowa.

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Jun can’t find Satoru, but then he turns up with a fearsome shikigami called a hiruko, targeting Ushio. Nagare and Jun can’t do anything against it, but Tora tears through it, and the deranged Satoru has to retreat for the time being. Tora opines that Satoru’s body has been taken over by the Hiyou, like the bus, and has become their latest instrument for disposing of Ushio.

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Unsure of how to proceed, Ushio remembers he can contact the Elder of Ungaikyou through any mirror, even a rest stops! The elder puts him in touch with the tengu Osa, who informs Ushio that the only way to remove the Hiyou from Satoru’s brain is to become an apparition or monster, which Ushio does whenever he wields the spear, enter Satoru’s body, and destroy the infestation. But it’s a risky proposition: the spear could very well consume Ushio’s entire soul in the process. So Ushio is faced with a choice: risk his own humanity to save another, or put him out of his misery.

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Of course, Ushio doesn’t really see that it’s much of a choice, especially when he sees how distraught Jun is and why: her brother once had trouble controlling his spiritual powers, and when he saved her from a low-level youkai, he ended up scaring her.  Ever since, she’s wanted to properly thank him.

To see Ushio’s reaction to her story, you just know he’ll put even excising the regrets of others before his own life; to do so would only add to his guilt and make it even harder to live with himself. At the same time, he has responsibilities as the true chosen wielder of the spear. At some point he must put his selflessness and emotions aside and think about the bigger picture.

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Satoru returns as promised, he has a few tricks out of the gate, and combined with Ushio’s uncertainty about how to handle this situation, the good guys are quickly on their heels. But it’s Jun who grabs hold of her brother and won’t let go that eventually draw the real Satoru out and make him come to his senses.

But once he does, and realizes what he’s done, he too is overcome by guilt and regret, harking back to how his sister recoiled when he last lost it. He’s so overcome, in fact, that he doesn’t believe he should live anymore, and leaps backwards off a cliff, giving us…a cliffhanger. Of course, considering Tora—who can fly—is around, and Satoru features prominently in the OP and ED, I’m not willing to write Jun’s bro off just yet. Catch’im, Tora!

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Nisekoi 2 – 12 (Fin)

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Not unpredictably, Nisekoi: decides to wrap things up with “Best Girl” Kirisaki Chitoge. The story of the first half  is simple: she loses and then eventually finds her beloved red ribbon. But because the ribbon carries so much sentimental power for her—due to its connection to both her beloved mother and her beloved Raku—that the time she’s separated from it and worried it could be in some dumpster somewhere is a palpable yawning chasm of near-Mr. Despair-like despair. Even Marika is thrown off by how meek and out of sorts her rival is.

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No one is more worried/concerned about Chitoge than Raku, however. While her predicament makes it easier for him to see her feminine side (though physically she’s still a beast) and he entertains the notion that things might be better if she just stayed like this, at the end of the day he’s a fan of the status quo, which means a cheerful—if sometimes unreasonable and violent—Chitoge.

So he buys a new ribbon for her. She immediately sniffs it out as a brand-new impostor, but because she’s so distraught, her guard is down and she expresses genuine gratitude for Raku’s kindness.

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Then Raku spots the real ribbon atop an electric pole, and the super-athletic Chitoge springs into gear…only to watch in horror as her ribbon catches on the train cable and gets shredded by a train. But at some point in her pursuit, she stopped following the real one and pursued the fake, which is the one that got destroyed. Raku produces the real one, unharmed…or is it?

When she puts it back on she returns mostly to her normal best self, but when she’s back home, we see she’s painstakingly repairing the destroyed ribbon Raku said was the fake new one, but there’s a chance the messed-up one was the real one, and Raku again switched them up to make her feel better. But at this point, she’s happy she has two ribbons, both of which her love Raku gave her at different times in her life.

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The second part is one of the best kinds of Nisekoi segments: those spent primarily in Chitoge’s head as she struggles with precisely what kind of feelings she has for Raku and if, when, and how to express them to him. It’s clear her heart wants her to confess, but her head overanalyzes and sweats over every detail and eventuality and potential effect of her words or actions, all coalescing into a paralyzing effect; no matter what goes on in her head, Raku can’t see or hear anything but the slightest hints; all to easily misinterpreted or simply not noticed.

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Chitoge seeks advice from her dad, who tells her the outrageous tale of how he met Hana. Back then she was a student juggling 17 jobs to pay her tuition, one of which was pizza delivery girl. She delivered a pizza while Chitoge’s future dad was it the middle of a shootout with a rival organization (well, he wasn’t doing the shooting, but directing from a pool lounger). Seeing Hana so confidently stride into the middle of a warzone…it was love at first sight for pops.

But he goes on to say that wasn’t the case for Hana: he had to suffer multiple embarrassments, rejections, and yes, broken bones before Hana finally fell for him. Chitoge may be right that her parents’ tale of coming together is atypical, but she’s wrong that it doesn’t resemble her own romance with Raku in some fashion. The difference is, Raku still keeps their relationship at an arm’s length due to it’s official “fakeness.”

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But he still gets clobbered by Chitoge regularly, and as we saw from the last segment, when she suddenly stops being herself, he not only notices, but worries about her and wants to help. Turns out, the chemistry between her and Raku is so good, the question of how or when to confess to him is more or less resolved by Raku himself.

In talking about how they’ve been fake lovers for more than a year now, reminds Chitoge what she really wants, which is to spend more time with him. And as long as she can do that, there’s no rush to say the words…which is good, because she can barely say them to her stuffed Chitoge gorilla.

The way this episode ended didn’t promise a third season of Nisekoi, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised. But would I watch it? While hardly any show beats around the bush as stylishly and confidently as Nisekoi, the lack of deal-closing was just as frustrating this season as it was in the first, and the show show no signs of fixing that.

Fortunately, it rarely has to, as its episodic nature lets us focus on and revel in the colorful variety of love interests Raku has to choose from, which makes us forget for just long enough that he’ll never choose any of them.

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Nisekoi 2 – 11

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I’ve been a little disappointed with the seeming lack of progress on any of Raku’s romantic paths, along with the general scattered format of Nisekoi in the midst of so many more serialized romances. But it’s episodes like this, particularly its B-part, that make me forget about the “Utopian” (perfect, but impossible) Nisekoi in my head and simply enjoy the Nisekoi being delivered to the screen.  

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The first half of his All Kosaki, All The Time episode is comedic, and pegs her as almost too trusting of notoriously inaccurate bathroom scales. (It’s also an opportunity for Hana-Kana to stretch her vocal muscles, as Kosaki does a lot of yelling). Despite being valued by her family for having the best taste buds, buds she trusts when tasting the new fall sweet lineup, she doesn’t trust her eyes when she sees a slim Kosaki in the mirror, and doesn’t trust her fingers when they pinch so very little fat from her belly.

Instead, she trusts a number (or rather, the silhouette of the farm animal closest to her alleged weight) and begins down a spiraling path of self-destructive behavior to lower it. It doesn’t take long for Raku to notice something’s wrong, but Kosaki refuses to let him in on what it is. But he still wants to help, so makes her favorite food, only exacerbating the situation.

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Now Kosaki feels bad for “weighing too much” and for making him feel bad for making her food. She’s at a loss of what to do, but Raku persists in trying to help her, this time with tea. He’s been worrying about her all this time, and when he remarks that she’s thin and has to eat, the spell the scale put on her is instantly broken, and everything’s fine, because Raku’s kind words are more powerful than any (busted!) scale.

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That unconditional concern and gentle kindness is the segue to the far more serious and affecting second half, in which we get the full story of when Kosaki fell for Raku in middle school. Just as they’re both kind, gentle people, so to was their romance, as both were content with saying “Good Morning!” in the morning and “See You!” at the end of the day.

Those words had power for Kosaki, so when she overhears where Raku is moving on to high school, she decides to make her first real goal in adolescent life to  get into that same school as him. The love is a fuel that drives her to work hard, so she can still exchange those salutations with the object of that love.

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It’s a bold plan for Kosaki, considering both she and Raku are too gentle and shy to just come out and confess to one another. But when Raku spots Kosaki at the exams, he’s filled with elation and tells her they should try their best to both get in. At this confirmation that she may well be as important to him as he is to her, Kosaki swells with confidence.

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Then she FAILS! But, because this is a flashback, we know two things: Kosaki will be getting in the same school as Raku, and neither will be confessing to the other, even in a gorgeous, romantic winter scene perfect for such a gesture…

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…Kinda like this! Well, actually, exactly like this. A romance is certainly dependent on the decisions of its participants, but it also relies on a degree of luck, such as Raku happening to encounter a distraught Kosaki in that wintry park. When she repeatedly declines to take his scarf for fear he’ll catch cold, he proposes they share it, which gets both of them wonderfully flustered.

And just as the gears in Kosaki’s head are spinning like mad wondering if this is the ideal time and place to confess like she should have long ago (it is), Raku pipes up first, only he can’t get it out because luck intervenes in the negative, with Kosaki’s phone ringing. It’s an important call, though: turns out she’s been admitted into the same high school as Raku after all.

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Kosaki is happy. Raku is really happy, and Kosaki is happy that Raku is happy that she’s happy. Get the trend? And the rest is history: a history of kind, gentle gestures and exchanges, of “Good Mornings” and “See Yous”, but also much more substantial conversations and activities and embarrassments and close calls.

But through it all, despite periodic frustrations, both Kosaki and Raku have been happy, even without confessions or official dates or kissing. And in the midst of such happiness, if not full and unequivocal contentment, a mutual hesitation to rock the boat is understandable.

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Nisekoi 2 – 10

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Nisekoi 2’s intense episodic nature means we’re never quite sure what we’re going to get from week to week, and considering the success of other rom-coms with more serialized format, often leave us feeling like it’s taking the wrong approach. But this week demonstrated that when it wants to, Nisekoi can do a lot in just one week.

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Submitted for your approval: four-eyed class clown and horndog Maiko Shuu actually gets DIMENSION, and gets to make more than just sly cat faces! I sure didn’t see that coming, but once it got going I was not complaining.

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While they go way back, Shuu has always been far better at hiding who he likes than Raku, whom Shuu knows full well loves Onodera. All Shuu gives away at first about his love is that she’s an “unattainable flower” who will ultimately break his heart. Raku bounces this idea off of Tsugumi of all people, which is perfect because she happens to be in the very situation he’s presenting to her as a hypothetical.

Fortunately for Tsugumi, Raku is far to dense to pick up on the source of her embarrassment, but Tsugumi ultimately treats his questions with respect, telling him she’d probably never tell that unattainable person how she felt, lest she cause trouble for him; matching Shuu’s position on the matter.

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One can make the case that Tsugumi’s unattainable love is Raku, assuming what she’s feeling for him is love (something she’s not at all sure of). But Shuu’s love is the teacher, Kyoko-sensei, who suddenly drops the hammer that she’s getting married and quitting teaching.

Shuu reacts to the news with a big smile and lots of laughter and hearty congratulations, but inside he’s devastated. And yet, because it was the older Kyoko who told him he was the most mature of the guys in his class, he’s apparently determined never to tell Kyoko his feelings—something he may regret—but will instead live with that regret, like adults sometimes must do.

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Shuu-as-Raku’s-mirror works surprisingly well throughout the episode, especially as the perennial Best Girl Chitoge and clingy Marika are all but absent this week. We can focus instead on the triangle of Tsugumi, Raku, and Kosaki. Raku’s affection for Kosaki is so strong, merely thinking of her being married off to some other guy makes him cough up black stuff and does significant damage to his soul. Heck, I felt pretty awful about that dark fantasy!

Yet, when Raku gathers himself, he can indeed see himself living life under those circumstances, as long as Kosaki is happy. That’s when Tsugumi flags him down, eager to clarify her responses. She maintains that she could see herself never confessing to that hypothetical guy and choosing to live with that, but that doesn’t mean she wants to…nor does it mean she can.

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That settles things for Raku, who clarifies his position to Shuu: he’ll stand by whatever decision he makes, including not confessing to Kyoko. But he’ll also give Shuu a push if asked. Shuu asks, Raku pushes him, and he manages to catch Kyoko right before a taxi drives her out of his life. We can’t hear their exchange, only the pounding rain, but we don’t have to: Shuu gets the gentle rejection he knew he’d get. Even when Raku worries he meddled too much, Ryuu is thankful for his push.

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That push was made possible by Tsugumi, and led to Raku giving himself a push by asking Kosaki, who was looking all over school worried about him, to walk home with him, not because anything is wrong, but because he feels like it. Kosaki is initially shocked by his forwardness, but still accepts, as readily as Kyoko rejects Shuu. You can’t spend your youth wallowing in unpleasant hypotheticals: you gotta enjoy!

That brings us to the final piece of the puzzle this week: Ruri. Frankly, I thought we’d see more of her this week than we ended up seeing, but what we got was still pretty good, as the episode was peppered with moments of her love-hate relationship with Shuu and her status as an attainable—but up-till-now under-noticed—flower in Shuu’s life.

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