Cautious Hero – 02 – Is This Really Going to Work Out?

First off, while the promo art shows six other characters, I’m glad the focus stayed with Ristarte (AKA Rista, or Listarte/Lista) and Seiya. Nothing worse than introducing a bunch of new characters before we’ve had a proper amount of time with the core duo. In this case, it behooved the show to maintain that focus for their first “town mission” scenario, start to finish.

Seiya flees Chaos Machina to his hut in the Divine Realm to continue working out, even as Chaos beheads one townfellow and threatens to behead Mina’s dad. Things get a bit awkward, pacing-wise, as Rista tries in vain to urge Seiya to get moving.

I really shared in Rista’s frustration during the scene leading up to Seiya’s logical-sounding rebuttal.  Not only does it seem absurd for a hero to just keep doing push-ups while people are dying. When she prepares to storm out, calling him a terrible hero and a coward, he makes his position clear: if he goes in half-cocked and gets killed, everyone in the village—and possibly the world—die anyway. So he must be perfectly prepared.

Seiya seems to be proven right when in the battle Chaos Machina constantly unveils previously-hidden, increasingly more powerful forms to counter his leveling up. But once Chaos transforms into a kind of Bahamut ready to smash him into dust, Seiya blocks her strike with one hand. Turns out the stats on Rista’s scan were grossly underrated due to a “Fake-out” ability. Seiya had more than enough power to defeat any form of Chaos from the beginning!

Because he’s so overly cautious, at least one innocent man died needlessly. Things get worse when, after eliminating Chaos Machina, he repeatedly burns the charred remains—little more than scraps of charcoal—with his hidden abilities, setting all of the town’s shops (and some of its people) aflame. You’d think he could move the collected remains somewhere where there wouldn’t be such horrific collateral damage, but Seiya’s caution only applies to his own survival. More so than Goblin Slayer, Seiya’s an unrepentant bastard.

That’s just one way he’s not quite the hero Rista hoped for; he’s got all the stats but none of the…heroism. Before leaving town, Mina’s dad offers some money as thanks, but Seiya demands all his money…and after burning half the town, too! She also has next to no power when it comes to where they should go and what they should do next; she thinks they should move to the next town, but he demands they return to the Divine Realm so he can work out more…and so they do.

Cautious Hero’s second episode lacks the novelty of the first, but is still both fun and watchable. I appreciated its willingness to let its simple character dynamic play out. Now I imagine it will rinse and repeat with a new and more powerful foe, introduce more characters, or both. I’d say it’s the right time for a new face or two. Otherwise, Seiya being ruthlessly condescending to Rista while spamming enormous fire spells on nothing but dust will get stale.

Kakegurui – 01 (First Impressions)

Suzui Ryouta is an unexceptional student at the prestigious Hyakkaou, a gambling academy for the children of the super-rich. Suzui gets into such great debt to Saotome Mary that he becomes her “house pet.”

Already, we’re into Prison School territory with Kakegurui, what with a powerful woman in charge, a mostly-innocent boy under her heel, and a mood not afraid to get a little kinky about it.

Of course, Suzui isn’t totally innocent—he did gamble after all—but he’s in an unenviable position at the start of the story, and feels like there’s no hope. That is, until hope arrives in the person of Jabami Yumeko, an elegant raven-haired maiden initially appears to be both the visual and emotional yin to the blonde Mary’s yang.

Of course, Jabami is way too suspiciously affable and bubbly; it’s clear even if one didn’t watch the sultry, hedonistic OP that she’s a hustler and that Saotome Mary is her latest mark. Be forewarned: is a show that revels in twisting up its characters’ faces to disturbing degrees.

Saotome challenges Jabami to a friendly game of the “Rock-Paper-Scissors Voting Game”, which combines RPS and an extra element of imbalance due to the randomness of the votes.

Jabami wins a couple of two-chip hands but also lets Saotome win a couple of far larger ones involving a million yen—all to put Saotome in a false sense of confidence while determining how Saotome is using the assembled voters (many in her debt, like Suzui) to cheat.

Once Saotome drops the nice act and shows Jabami her “war mask”, Jabami has no more reason to hide her own: buying back in to the tune of ten million yen cash before having what could be described as a “gamblegasm” whilst striking a pose.

The only RPS hand that matters is the final one, in which Jabami walks away with a cool 8.8 million yen (around 77,000 USD) after subtracting her initial losses. Rather, she walks away with Mary 8.8 million in her debt, which seems like a far worse place to be.

Suzui, ashamed that he was compelled to help Saotome cheat (which Jabami picked up on by spying on him with her compact mirror), apologizes to her and vows to drop out of an academy in which he feels he has no business being. To his shock, Jabami earnestly thanks him for the fun gambling she was able to experience on her first day, and drops a fat stack in his hand to back up her words with green.

And there you have it: Gambling school, weird over-the-top twisted expressions, some light S&M, and some (so-far) elemental but promising characters. MAPPA delivers a solid production with bold lighting, visceral sound, and a red-and-black palette appropriate to the gambling theme. Performance-wise, it’s a delight to hear Hayami Saori as Jabami shift from meek to meaty on a dime. Definitely worth a look.

Girl Friend BETA – 07

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After careful deliberation and due to impending scheduling conflicts, I’ve decided that this will most likely be my last review of Girl Friend BETA, though I’ll still be watching it. Coincidentally, this last episode I’ll review is about an ending…the ending to Natsume’s novel about a kooky collection of ridiculous characters who save the world that she’s been working on since elementary school.

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I must say, this story hits very close to home, as I myself have written a novel and, related to a lot of Natsume’s troubles, including hitting backspace again and again! I had the hardest time finishing it, and ended up resorting to the same strategy that Natsume’s friends recommend: setting deadlines. I also created a rough outline of how the story was to end, giving a basic framework for the novel that I could tweak as I filled in the details. Granted, my novel didn’t have anthropomorphic dogs, monkey bartenders, or drunk cyborgs!

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Natsume first confesses her writer’s block to library assistant Fumio, who reads it and really wants to know how it ends. She then accidentally shares it with four other girls (Chloe, Erena, Chizuru, and Emi, if you were wondering) who all gather ’round Natsume to urge Natsume to finish it.

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The five seek to aid Natsume by researching the nature of her characters, and end up wrangling four more girls into the operation (Isuki, Tsugumi, Yuzuki, and Miss Monochrome) This follows the Girl Friend BETA formula of solving a problem with an ever-increasing, dizzying array of colorful characters, some we’ve seen before, others we haven’t.

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It’s all quite a bit of attention and pressure placed on Natsume, but as the other girls continue contributing their assistance and support, Natsume finds she’s stopped hitting backspace all the time; the block is lifted, and she has an idea how to end it!

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Again, I have felt the joy of that “Eureka Mode” before, where the words just pour out of your hands and onto the laptop, to the point you don’t stop even if it’s well past the time you’re usually asleep. I have yet to replicate the awesome feeling one gets the moment the final words hit the page.

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Natsume’s is an ending everyone ends up loving, for different reasons. But it’s a bittersweet moment, because she had had so much fun living in the world she was creating. She’s arrived at the destination in tears, knowing the journey she loved so much is over. But hey, that’s what sequels are for, and she promptly starts work on a continuation of her story.

This was another nice little episode in a show that’s full of them. GF Beta is definitely doing something no other show is doing, and for that reason I’ll keep watching. It’s great “comfort food.”

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 08

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This week’s Herman-centric episode was as good as last week’s Leon-centric episode was bad. Because both took place over the same period of time, Garo could have structured it as a more integrated two-parter, in which Herman’s and Leon’s scenes would be woven together. But if that had been the case, this second episode would have suffered for it.

One way to think about it is that Leon lost, and learned he’s not as ready as he thinks he is, so it stands to reason his episode would also lose to Herman’s in terms of story, action, and especially comedy. This week repaired all the damage to my faith in the show last week caused.

Keeping the two sides separate let us experience All Herman, All the time. Mind you, if Herman’s horny roguishness and rubs you the wrong way, you probably didn’t enjoy this episode any more than last week’s…but I did.

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I really like how comedy was such a persistent presence this week, in contrast to the stiff joylessness of Leon’s dealings. One source of that comedy is the fact Herman is naked as his name day for most of the episode. Ironically, Herman was talking last night’s conquest about how he prefers his birthday suit to any clothes, let alone armor.

Then universe grants his wish, along with one hell of a taxing day in which he just can’t seem to stay out of trouble.

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Mind you, the trouble he gets himself into is all his fault, for letting his little Herman lead him around. No one makes him disrobe; he does it of his own volition once he’s confident the pretty damsel in distress he rescued from three goons will sleep him…which isn’t the most unreasonable assumption, but it is an assumption; made in haste in hopes of satisfying his libido.

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The damsel turns out to be in cahoots with the goons and rob him blind, and since he already helpfully removed his clothes, they decide to go ahead and take those too. Thanks to some quick thinking and resourcefulness (as a Makai knight, he’s used to fighting larger opponent) he manages to escape.

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But must escape naked, which gets him into trouble fast in the busy city. It’s great how fast his plight escalates, until there’s literally an army chasing after the guy. Mind you, this is really just one drawn-out hassle for him; he’s not about to take any of this misfortune as some kind of lesson in being more cautious with women. Herman is who he is, and sometimes shit like this is going to happen.

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This is illustrated perfectly when Herman borrows a sheet from a washerwoman’s line. A crossbowman with terrible aim corners him and accidentally loses a bolt, and Herman catches it before it hits the lady. In effect, this was a transaction: Herman takes the lady’s sheet, and pays for it by saving her life. Though he put her life was put at risk in the first place, I still think she got the better end of the bargain.

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Herman loses his sheet almost immediately while being chased by mounted soldiers, but is rescued by Emma, who always seems to show up at the right time. But she doesn’t just vanish in ten seconds like last week; she reports to Herman what she witnessed: Leon losing to the Black Knight, Bernardo Dion.

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With that name drop, the mood gets more serious (you almost forget he’s nude but for a junk-covering pink bonnet), as you can tell from Herman’s and Emma’s Serious Faces above. Knowing Leon is alive, however, Herman isn’t in a hurry to go to him; he’s a teacher as well as a father, and a teacher can’t always be bailing out his student when they run into adversity.

Heck, part of him is relieved Leon lost; after all, he was never going to believe his carefree horndog dad telling him he’s not ready to storm the castle. And Leon didn’t just fall short in strength here; a Makai knight’s duty is to protect, not fight or to dream of taking revenge and defeating nemeses. A Makai knight must float above all that, or risk being turned by the darkness inherent in their business; ‘one who studies horrors is studied by horrors’, and such.

Anyway, below is the exchange that ends the episode’s A-part, and from the delivery of the lines to the pause between them, followed by an abrupt cut to commercial, it’s pretty much goddamned perfect:

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I Lol’d.

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Herman ends up paying a visit to Garm, someone we haven’t seen in a while but seems to be a kind of Makai Supervisor who never wants for fruit. She also knows a lot more than Herman does, which pisses him off when she doesn’t inform him Dion turned ‘dark’ and attacked Leon.

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This is important because he and Dion were once on the same side, despite being complete opposites in personality-wise. Herman was pretty much the same outwardly carefree horny guy back then, while Dion was sterner, more serious, and the look of being weighed down by something. Herman, Anna, and Dion stuck together as the witchhunts raged, and one night when the three were cornered, Dion stayed behind to cover the escape of the other two.

It’s a valiant, honorable thing to do, but it spells doom for Dion, as in order to save his friends, he puts himself in the position of losing himself to the darkness he always felt lurking within him (that ‘weight’ I mentioned). Herman and Anna may well have been the last two people Dion protected as a Makai Knight. Now he works for Mendoza.

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I didn’t think we’d ever return to that barn where Herman was cockblocked and robbed, but we do, and this time Irene is genuinely upset and in need of rescuing, as one of her associates has turned into a Horror. He’s not a particularly tough horror, and Nude Herman is able to dispatch him without even donning his armor.

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Heck, when he ends up back in a situation where he must protect Irene — for real this time — and it’s suggested they sleep together after all, it’s as if the universe is balancing things out, just as he expected they would. Though he still needs to go pick up his clothes at the pawn shop, which means he needs coin, and last week’s final scene of a naked Herman is thus fully explained.

Yes, I much preferred separation Herman and Leon’s stories to their being meshed across two episodes. I’m glad Leon’s story was over and done with so it didn’t have to stink this up. Throughout most of last week I was frustrated, lost, and a little bored, to the point of wondering “Hey, I wonder what his dad is up to!” Now we know. We got the Full Monty, and it was glorious.

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Girl Friend BETA – 06

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This week, a cafeteria out of sweet potatoes, a half-overheard conversation on the stairwell, and a curious passage in a 30-year-old yearbook lead to a cascading confluence of green-skirted first-years. Now that’s random!

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First-year go-getter and light music club member Asahina Momoko is afraid the second-years Kurokawa and Kazemachi think she’s a rude pain for being so casual with them, as it’s poor etiquette in Japanese schools for the underclassmen to be too familiar with their senpais. Momo’s friend Hazuki Yuzuko is swept up in her efforts to mend fences, which leads to the fourth wall-breaking shot above.

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Momoko’s goals cross with occult club member Amari Akari and curiously star-eyed Miyauchi Nozomi, who are trying to figure out the cryptic yearbook message, which seems to relate to re-forging connections and something red-clothed in a golden field. Two more freshmen hear of the investigation and they set to work.

In the end, Momoka’s first mishap of the day, waiting in line for sweet potatoes only for them to be sold out when she got to the counter, turns out to be the answer that both solves the yearbook mystery and help her apologize to her senpais, and that’s with a big basket of sweet potatoes under a tree.

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At least, it’s the answer they go with; the true meaning of the passage remains unclear. But Momoka had no cause to worry to begin with, as she left before hearing the rest of the second-years’ talk, which allowed for casual interactions between firsts and seconds in the light music club, where cohesion is so important.

While not quite as good as the study group or cafeteria episodes, this GF BETA continued the show’s ability to draw from its vast collection of disparate personalities to tell unique, detailed, and ultimately charming stories.

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Samurai Flamenco – 08

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King Torture orders the surrender of the government and the enslavement of the people, but the police rather than the JSDF are trusted with dealing with it. As Harazuka continually upgrades his gear, Flamenco and the Girls dispatch one monster after another without casualties, save the monsters themselves who self-destruct after defeat. Both Masayoshi and MMM’s careers start to skyrocket, though Mari is starting to get bored with fighting Flamenco’s leftovers, while Goto’s girlfriend warns him she’s scared of the new look in Masayoshi’s eyes.

We were caught off guard last week by the show’s sudden decision to introduce unrealistic monsters into the story without it being a dream or illusion, and were a little dubious of the execution, but after this week, we’ve come to like the suddenness. Being a superhero, Masayoshi focuses on defeating evil and protecting the people, so we don’t delve much into Torture’s origins or motives, which is good. They’re just the next level of baddies for Samumenco and the Samurai Girls to tangle with. We like how they’ve joined forces once again out of necessity for more muscle, but the same problems with their last teaming-up are still there: Mari doesn’t want to share the spotlight. This episode did a good job taking us by the hand and confidently guiding us smoothly through its new “monster milieu”, efficiently chronicling how things have gradually reached a new normalcy.

Torture’s declaration of war led the government to declare a state of emergency, but as the police and heroes polish off the monsters, the threat level is incrementally ratcheted, until they’re considering not even meeting about it every week. That could prove premature: because we know so little of King Torture, he’s basically capable of anything. Speaking of which, Masayoshi is feeling very invincible at the moment, fueled by Sumi’s encouragement, Jouji’s praise, and Harazuka’s gadgets. But his intention to barrel forward and take full advantage of this auspicious time in his life, while admirable, could also lead to his downfall. Things seem to be working out almost too well for him, too fast. The only ones who see are Goto and his girlfriend. The show is wisely keeping the new monster threat’s effect on the characters as important as (if not more so than) the threat itself.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)