How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 01 (First Impressions) – Feel the Burn

Sakura Hibiki eats too much of the wrong food and doesn’t exercise enough. That’s what brings us to her initial motivations: to slim down so she can snag a hot guy. Of course, this is not a finger-snapping affair, but a brutal, exhausting odyssey that will challenge every aspect of who Hibiki thinks she is and of what she’s capable.

Of course, Hibiki doesn’t have the willpower to undertake such a quest alone, which is why it’s surreptitious that another girl at her school, the rich, beautiful, and 16% body fat class president Souryuuin Akemi joins the newly-built Silverman Gym the same day she does. She soon learns that not only is Akemi a health and fitness fanatic, but cultivates a strong muscle fetish.

Thus we have our comedic duo for this edu-taining aspirational slice-of-life: Akemi as the wilder comic, Hibiki as the straight man who reacts similarly to how most of us would in the midst of all the intense musclery on display. Their coach at the gym is Machio Naruzou, who is always wearing a bright smile and whose Prince Charming good looks immediately persuade Hibiki to join despite seeming way out of her element.

But that’s the thing about trying any new thing: you can easily come to feel like you have so much to learn and catch up on that you put far too much pressure on yourself from the start, rather than trusting in a healthie, more incremental process. You’re so afraid of failure, and success feels impossible. In something like weight training, the body will follow the mind’s lead and you’ll get nowhere.

Where How Heavy excels is on how carefully and gradually Machio eases Hibiki into the basics of lifting weights, all while maintaining a supportive demeanor that never comes off as patronizing. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but Machio makes it easy.

Heavy is also fully aware that some of the explanations of the routines look and sound pretty…erotic, but hey, we’re dealing with sculpting the human body here, and the production values are more than up to the task, so the ecchi element is not just unforced, it’s executed splendidly. You’re not mean to leer at the bodies on display, you’re supposed to regard them with awe.

That’s exactly what happens when training wraps for the day, and when Machio says the word “besides” he suddenly becomes compelled to bust out of his tracksuit and strike a classic “side chest” pose, presenting his Arnold Schwarzenegger Mister Universe physique. Hibiki fell in love with his face, but is somewhat put off by the excessive muscles, while Akemi, she of the fetish, almost has a crisis.

After her first real workout probably ever, Hibiki feels ruined, and can barely stand in class the next day. As she and Akemi walk home and she continues to voice her reservations about continuing at Silverman Gym, Akemi tells her how happy she is to be able to train with a friend from school. That convinces Hibiki to stick with it. After all, this is already more about getting a hotter bod, or gaining joy and confidence in one’s increased strength and stamina…it’s about making a lovely new friend. Akemi certainly challenges her preconceptions about her “rich girl” status.

The next day, his “secret” revealed, Machio doesn’t bother hiding his tank of a body, and gets right into introducing Hibiki to squats, which are much tougher than the bench presses Hibiki thought were already plenty tough.

Hibiki is such a relatable protagonist because she approaches things realistically within her established modus operandi: try a bit, and quickly give up. As we all would if we were in her shoes! But with multiple motivating vectors including not wanting to let Akemi or Machio down, and yes, wanting to look hotter for the beach, she perseveres and blows past those old boundaries. That’s what the slogan “becoming a new you” is all about.

While walking home after another grueling workout, Akemi notices Akemi snacking and asks her how many times she eats a day. When Hibiki honestly replies “around six or seven, sometimes more,” she fully expects a stern scolding, like she normally gets from her best friend Ayaka. But instead, Akemi is duly impressed that Hibiki has been blessed with such a powerful appetite. After all, building muscle requires fuel.

Where the critical Ayaka sees the expanding Hibiki as a bomb ready to go off, Akemi sees great potential, not a threat—a diamond to be cut and polished from rough stone. While Ayaka’s concerns are legitimate and her heart’s in the right place, the tone is wrong. If Hibiki is going to make progress, she’s going to need positive voices, including her own. I look forward to her and Akemi’s iron-pumping journey!

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 03 – Precedence: Show Higher; Tell Lower

I realize Index is shounen, and a lot of chatter and explanation of tactics is par for the course, but by God there seemed to be a lot of it this week! Much is made about Terra of the Left’s “Precedence” ability, but as a member of the Right Hand of God, neither his presence or his abilities evoke terror. One big problem is it just takes so goddamn long for him to spit out the various incantations that give one thing (like flour) precedence over another (stone, metal, flesh, etc.).

Terra’s seiyu is the venerable Ootsuka Houchuu, but saddling the old man with explaining his attacks and making him say “Precedence: X higher, Y lower” every time he attacks just slows the battle way down to the point where when he gives Touma and Itsuwa “ten seconds” to attack or run, I had to laugh out loud; Dude, you’ve given them over half an hour!

Touma and Itsuwa eventually end up with Tsuchimikado, but only for a hot minute, as they split up again so he can face down some of the invading Academy City Powered Suits. Again, much of the battle is spent with him talking, explaining how he’s going to bring the suits down.

Two other weird little details: when Touma calls Misaka to ask if Avignon’s in the news (which it most definitely is), they didn’t bother to add a “phone filter” to Misaka’s voice, making it sound like she’s there in the Papal Palace with him. Not only that, for a kid who can’t always afford food, he’s racking up quite an international call charge leaving his phone on the hook!

If it sounds like I’m nitpicking, well, I am, but only because the show is so consumed with explaining every, attack, effect, and motive, it all kinda ends up muddling together into a gray mass that makes it easy to be distracted to the little things like the sound Misaka’s voice or Touma’s phone bill.

And at the end of the day, Terra and his attack just aren’t that impressive; certainly not as much as Imagine Breaker (even though Touma either forgot its true power or wants confirmation from Terra). Touma punches Terra a couple times, and then destroys the Document of C when he touches it with his right hand.

Back in the Tower of London, Lidvia continues explaining how the Right Hand of God wants to not only gain the power of angels, but gain equivalency with God himself and even surpass him. Such a lofty yet abstract goal is akin to Jafar’s final wish to the Genie in Aladdin: becoming an all-powerful genie. Sure, you can juggle planets in your hands, but to what end? At what point do you have enough power?

I’m not sure, and neither is the show. The Right Hand of God are simply Bad Guys, and Touma, Misaka, Itsuwa, etc. are the Good Guys. Spending the better part of two episodes on Terra feels even more pointless when we learn the RHG isn’t even really a united force; after having a chat with Terra, Acqua rips a column of the vatican off its mounts and crushes him with it.

Besides being a needlessly destructive way to kill someone, it was also a “twist” that had absolutely no effect on me. Acqua is an even more boring dude then Terra, who at least had a certain joie de vivre about him. Meanwhile, the second straight episode ends with Misaka just hanging out in her dorm, doing nothing. Not a rousing start!

AICO – 09 – Bogged Down in Matter…and Exposition

In a key early scene that informs the torrent of revelations to come in the on-the-nosely-titled “Truth”, Aiko weeps for the loss of Shinomiya, something for which Shiraishi is very grateful, despite the fact she doesn’t blame Aiko for the loss.

We also learn that Kanzaki essentially leaves the remaining Divers no choice but to press on, questioning whether they took the risk to their lives seriously when they signed up for a mission they knew they might not return from.

Sagami curses Kanzaki’s cleverness, but the kid has a point: they signed up for this. That they were lied to about the details doesn’t change the fact that taking the job meant being prepared to die from the start.

From there, “Truth” unfolds pretty much like the previous episodes, with the team storming through the next zone to get to the next gate…only this is the final gate before Primary Point, and they no longer have a Beetle to protect them from the big stuff.

Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, however, a “benevalent” purplish version of the Matter protects Aiko & Co. from the malignant red Matter int he nick of time, in the process sending Kanzaki and Aiko flying like Renton and Eureka.

But once the group enters the facility where Aiko’s still-incomplete operation took place—and where the Burst began—the end of their journey also marks the end of the episode’s momentum. For the balance of the episode, revelation after revelation is made, thanks to Dr. Isazu remotely  talking to Aiko and the others from the facility’s P.A. system.

Much of what he says, we already know: that Kanzaki is really Yura, for instance. Some of the news is, well, new: the “Aiko” we’ve followed all this time wasn’t the one with the real brain after all, but AICO, the elaborate artificial brain occupying the carbon nanostructure-repaired real body of the real Aiko—both built by Yura.

Yura intends to merge the fake Aiko’s brain and body to end the burst, which will also destroy the near-as-makes-no-difference sentient life form he created. No other possible solution is brought up; Isazu simply informs Aiko that the SDF will soon pummel the facility she’s in, so she’d better find cover.

Because so much information is dumped on us, some of which repeats what’s already been revealed to us, things get really stagnant in the latter chunk of the episode. Switching from the facility to the hospital where Isazu is to the hacker’s house where Kurase and Nanbara are only feels like a naked attempt to break the infodump up among different settings, and it doesn’t really work.

The slog is somewhat interrupted when the red Matter arrives, and rather than stick with Kanzaki/Yura or the Divers, Aiko runs off on her own, gets cornered, as is once again saved by the purplish Matter, in which an inviting, brightly-lit opening is formed. When Gummi goes in, Aiko follows, and before she knows it she’s face-to-face with “the other Aiko”, the one Isazu says is the real deal.

Does this mean Isazu’s daughter is controlling the red Matter? What are the two Aikos going to discuss? Is there any way to end the Burst and save Japan from destruction without destroying the artificial body that apparently started it all?

AICO – 08 – Finally, a Casualty…but Yura Lives

The nano-structured cat is out of the bag, and Aiko and Yuuya have some serious explaining to do to convince the Divers, whose emotions upon learning Aiko is artificially-bodied range from disbelief to anger. Yuuya deflects it from Aiko by saying it was his call to keep them in the dark, and then reveals that the mission is far larger and grander than the Divers thought, and if Yuuya’s mission is successful, the Burst itself will end.

It’s still a lot to take in, but thanks to Shinoyama and Shiraishi backing Yuuya up, Sagami agrees to keep going as per the terms of their contract, with the caveat that should he find out Yuuya is lying about anything else, he won’t hesitate to personally kill Yuuya and Aiko to protect his team from undue danger.

It’s the “undue danger” part I’ve always been a bit fuzzy with. AICO‘s overarching antagonist—the Matter—is so diverse in form and behavior and so overpowered that it’s been an exercise in suspended belief to watch the Diver team weave through and neutralize it so efficiently.

I get that they’re good at their jobs, but this week alone we have a gigantic human-form Matter that’s literally stories in height, and Sagami & Co. firing what amounts to pea-shooters at it. There’s a distinct disconnect between the scale and ability of the foe and the Divers’ ability to survive at all in the Area, let alone get as far as they’ve gotten.

Mind you, things have only seemed too easy up to this point. In this episode, the team finally suffers two major casualties, just when it was starting to feel absurd that they hadn’t yet suffered any. What gives the loss of the Beetle, the nearly indestructible mothership around which the whole mission revolves, extra weight is just how damn fast it happens.

A Matter tentacle burrows through the armor, and within the space of a few seconds, things go from just fine to the heavy laser is overloading and the whole damn tank exploding, with Aiko, Yuuya, and Shiraishi getting out at the very last moment. And they’re not outside long before the Matter starts coming after them.

This results in the next major casualty, and the first human one: Shinoyama, who sacrifices himself to allow not only Aiko and Yuuya, but his lover Shiraishi to live and keep going. It’s a tough loss because the team was already very light on people who believed in Yuuya’s vision of the mission, and his loss only aids the skeptics’ belief they’re way in over their heads (which again, I don’t know how they haven’t known this for days, but fine).

What of Aiko? Well while she’s certainly hamstrung by the fact that she feels pain after any attack on the Matter, and the larger the Matter, the more intense the pain. But when the Matter keeps coming and Shiraishi and Yuuya are occupied, Aiko picks up a gun and a grenade launcher and starts firing. It’s a welcome badass moment for a character who’d been squirming in pain for most of the episode.

While this episode distinguished itself with some of the series’ best battle action and upped the stakes with heavy losses in equipment and manpower, it also saved a nifty little revelation for last: Kanzaki Yuuya is an artificial body like Aiko, with the brain of none other than Toshihide Yura. It explains why he’s fine in the Area without a suit, and why he knows so much about Aiko, is so protective of her, and also sometimes treats her like an object.

While this was wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world—no doubt many saw this coming many episodes ago—I for one was too distracted by other things to ponder who/what Yuuya was. But now it’s official: Yuuya is Yura, which means the Burst was his fault. This is a quest to correct his mistakes, and he’s not turning back.

That’s up to Sagami, who is ready to kill Yuuya and Aiko as promised but holds his fire when Yuuya turns around to reveal he’s actually shedding tears for Shinoyama. Mind you, Sagami and the Divers don’t know who he really is (at least not yet), but Isazu does, and he wants his hands on that tech to save Yuzuha, whose brain waves continue to react in sync with Matter activity.

Orange – 13 (Fin)

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Naho vows to give Kakeru chocolates on Valentine’s Day and make sure he knows her feelings, but even though her letters state all of the various opportunities, she still manages to blow by almost all of them without success, which is obviously done to heighten the tension. It works!

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But this isn’t like the squandered opportunities of the past. This is it, with just a day before he commits suicide in the original timeline. She has to get those damn chocolates to him, or at least make up with him. A particularly one-dimensionally evil Ueda Rio provides one last obstacle to Naho, but she doesn’t back down, and by the end of the episode’s first act, victory is hers. It’s a satisfying scene that cuts through a lot of the murk that had built up.

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With apologies, hugs, and tears thus shared, Naho and Kakeru are back to normal; no, better than ever, and all the happier for it. Kakeru even blurts out that he loves her, and she doesn’t blush and run off.

But the hour of his past death is still ahead of them, and the circle of friends remains concerned enough to consider either breaking his bike or waiting at the site of his once-and-hopefully-not-future demise.

Again, we see the future friends planning out the logistics and agreeing to send their letters to the past. Again, it seems a little odd to call so much attention to such a mysterious and hard-to-swallow process that is never fully explained anyway (because it’s time magic).

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In any case, because they’ve changed the future so much, the timing of Kakeru’s attempted suicide is altered somewhat, and because Hagita actually sabotages his bike, he’s on foot when a truck nearly hits him.

Kakeru is wandering the night wanting to die, just like last time, because of the power of the unsent text on his mom’s phone he found. But unlike last time, Naho and the others have had an equally powerful cumulative effect on him, to the point it doesn’t matter that they’re too late to stop him, because he stops himself. He doesn’t want to die after all.

From there, everyone runs to him, thinking he’s been hit but relieved to find he isn’t, and when they have to explain why they’re all there, they finally let him in on the future letters, even giving him letters from their once-but-no-longer selves. And there’s a big ol’ group hug, baaaaaaaw.

Those former selves are still chillin’ in the future, content that they did all they could to make Kakeru in an alternate world a better chance to stay alive, for the benefit of their alternate past and future selves. They created a new world, where Kakeru could live and be happily ever after.

 

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Parting thoughts: In its first three to seven weeks, Orange could almost do no wrong by me, so enthusiastic was I by a show that had the potential to be AnoHana or Toradora! quality, with Hanazawa Kana as its able lead.

But the show eventually regressed a bit as the angst was heightened, and my enthusiasm waned just when it was growing for those other shows. Orange could also be a little cheesy at times (I continue to have mixed feelings about the huge smiles of various characters),  and it never maintained the (in hindsight unreasonable) heights I envisioned for it, but it still really wowed and moved me for a solid half of its run.

I liked these earnest kids and their mission to save their friend, I’m glad they succeeded, and I look forward to the anime movie that continues the tale a little further.