Just Because! – 01 (First Impressions)

With a rookie director, two rookie seiyuus in the lead roles and a super-vague synopsis, I had no idea what to expect from Just Because! —all I had to work with was a script by the guy who wrote seven scripts for Gundam IBO. What I did know was that Just Because! is a pretty nifty title.

We begin with an extended introduction to the neck-of-the-woods where we’ll presumably be spending time, and the show seemingly blows its entire suspended monorail budget in those first few minutes. Still, it’s a nice slow, but not flashy, establishment of this world.

The slow unflashiness continues at school, where there seems to be a dreary atmosphere; a malaise waiting to be snuffed out. Like the transfer student we eventually meet, we’re thrust into this school without knowing quite who to follow or what to do. That lack of bearing is essential to putting us in the mindspace of the protagonist, before he’s even anywhere near the center of the frame.

I’ll admit, I was dubious when terms like “transfer student” and “disbanding tiny club” came up; I consider myself just about clubbed out (both dance clubs and tiny school clubs in anime) and combined with the leisurely pace, I was starting to get a bit bored and depressed with this place. Especially when there’s no one or two people in focus for most of the episode. Even the camera feels afraid of showing us the players in this story.

Then Izumi Eita and Souma Haruto unexpectedly reunite on a baseball field after not contacting each other for the better part of four years (after Izumi moved away). He’s back for one semester, and while he and Haruto are initially a bit cool to each other, they manage to reconnect via baseball, with Izumi pitching and Haruto eager to hit a home run (I speak literally here, not in sexual euphemisms, BTW).

As their pitch-and-hit session heats up (hehe), it gradually garners the attention of the three other protagonists: the girl who is angry the photo club could be disbanded (the fiery Komiya Ena), the girl who plays the trumpet (Morikawa Hatsuki, providing the incidental score to the final act), and the former student council president who seems both jealous and part okay with the fact her friends went off to have fun without her (Natsume Mio).

Izumi and Souma are the magnets that draw the others together, though their individual vantage points keep them from realizing they’re all watching the same thing. This drawing together of disparate gazes also brings the show into focus. Finally, at the very end, we see people having fun, smiling, and laughing, after three quarters of an episode of somberness and ennui approaching existential dread.

Having hit a home run like he intended (but never thought he’d actually do), Souma goes off to ask Morikawa out, but he and Izumi exchange texts, and Izumi learns that Natsume, whom he also knows from the past, is also attending this school. Neither Izumi nor Natsume seem particularly happy at the start of this episode, but perhaps that will change when they reunite.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 17

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While Subaru managed to avoid the infamous white whale in previous lives in which he failed to save anyone, this week his luck really runs out.

There’s no escape from the whale, but all Rem can think of is to try to draw it away, an action that will likely result in her death but has a chance of saving Subie, along with Otto.

Of course, Subaru doesn’t want Rem to go, but she overrules his objection with a chop to the neck and jumps out of the wagon. That’s when things get weird…er.

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Not moments after they were talking about Rem, Otto acts as if he’s never heard of her before; as if the whale swallowed up not just Rem but everyone’s memory of her…except Subie’s, natch. Yet another reason for people to think he’s gone off his rocker…and he has.

No one of Subaru’s background would be expected to endure the repeated suffering and death of those he loves with such frequency and still have a chance of retaining one’s mental faculties.

Once Otto suspects the whale is after Subie, he shoves him off the wagon. An injured Subaru manages to find a ground dragon that takes him to the village where his kid friends are there to greet him, alive and well.

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So this time he made it to the mansion in time, but the situation is worse than Rem being dead, because no one, even Ram, has ever heard of her. The episode is ruthless in showing a momentary glimpse of a maid with blue hair until it’s revealed to be the twin not in love with Subie.

Rem aside, there is nothing Subaru can do to stop the massacre that’s about to happen. Emilia is more than patient (and still very concerned) about Subie, but all he can manage is to rave to her about how no one will be saved, and if she justs comes with him everything will work out.

Subie even attempts to tell Emilia about Return by Death, threat of having his heart squished be damned. Only this time the demonic hands don’t close around his heart when he says the words: they close around Emi’s, killing her in his arms.

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He awakes to a blood-colored night, where Beatrice is there, preparing to defend the mansion. Unwilling to kill Subie as he demands, she teleports him to the forest, so that he can find his own death, out of her sight. Pretty grim.

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Of course, once back in that damn forest, it doesn’t take long for Betelgeuse to show up with his cultist pals. He uses the same “unseen hands” that killed Emilia to separate him from her and threaten to tear her corpse apart, but a shower of ice daggers stays his unseen hands.

It’s the signature attack of a giant Puck, who, now that I see him in silhouette, was the beast that beheaded Subaru in episode 15, calling Emilia his daughter and asking Betelgeuse what he thinks he’s doing.

If you asked me back in the first half of the show if Emilia’s adorable little animate Beany Baby of a familiar would end up playing a role like this, I’d have said you were crazy. But we live in crazy, messed-up Re:Zero times.

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Kekkai Sensen – 02

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A giant Nausicaa-style beast flying over a Gothic/Art Deco alternate NYC skyline as if it were the most mundane thing in the world: This is one of the iconic, “nutshell” images of Kekkai Sensen, which joins the 10 Club this weekend with one hell of a second episode.

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After last week dropped us in the middle of Jerusalem’s (or Hellsalem’s) Lot with Leo and had at it, this week starts with formal introductions to his new co-workers at Libra, and they’re a fun, colorful bunch that also feels like a tight-knit family. Leo’s the ‘new adopted kid brother’ to Zapp, who is always butting heads with his ‘sister’ Chain, while Klaus has an undeniable dad-like quality to him. (He also looks like Beast from X-men.)

Rounding out the core of the Libra we know is organizer Steven A Starphase and Combat Butler…yes, Combat Butler, Gilbert F. Altstein (Alfred, anyone?) Leo seems a little overwhelmed with all the new names, but thanks to the helpful HUD-style character labeling, and the sheer variety of colorful personalities, it was a cinch for me to remember them.

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There’s more great world and character building as Leo continues his pizza delivery route, as the untold numbers of Libra members are all over Jerusalem’s/Hellsalem’s Lot but keep a low profile like the Dollars of Durarara!!, so it makes sense to keep living his regular life. The only thing is, every pizza he tries to deliver is intercepted by Zapp, who seems to be testing Leo’s reflexes (and patience!) while simultaneously keeping an eye on the boy with the Eyes That See All, a valuable new tool in the Libra arsenal.

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Those eyes pay immediate dividends, as while Leo is on his pizza route with Zapp in tow, he detects a dry cleaning van that doesn’t look right. In fact, he’s just seen past a form of camouflage previously unknown to and undetected by Libra, hiding a demonic courier van illegally transporting live humans.

Leo decides to retreat and regroup when he accidentaly meets eyes with the baddies, but it’s too late, and swiftly pounce on his Honda Gyro and nab him, leaving Zapp out of commision in a pool of his own blood. Tellingly, Zapp makes sure to get some of that blood on Leo’s clothes before the crims take him.

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From here we see the true awesome ability of Libra in action, utilizing far more than just brute strength to maintain the balance in the city. As a tied-up Leo protests the bad guy’s blatant violation of the “Chrysler-Galadona Accord”, Zapp is in contact with Chain, Klaus, and Steve. Chain has eyeballs on the van, but when it turns into a far less conspicuous vehicle (a Toyota Camry, LOL), she loses it. But Libra’s not done yet.

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The whole reason Zapp is in such a bad way, and furthermore seems to absorb every blood transfusion the hospital gives him, is that he’s got a thin strand of blood tied to the van that nabbed Leo. When Leo manages to stop (read: crash) the van by using his eyes to overwhelm the vision of his captors, all Zapp has to do is ignite that blood thread, but since he can’t move, it’s up to Chain to follow the fire to paydirt. Klaus, Steve, and Gil also follow in their jersey-barrier-busting, badass LXG-style custom pursuit vehicle.

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From there, the chase is on, which we follow both by watching Chain fly along the rooftops, in the crazily-driving butler’s instruments, and a nifty 3DCG map that tracks everyone. It’s a fantastically set-up and thrillingly staged chase scene that really capitalizes on the complexity of the city and the super-abilities of the cast. And it’s all set to Jazz. This show knows what it’s doing.

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So does Libra, and so once they catch up to the van of couriers (who weren’t prepared to be detected in the first place, let alone for serious combat), it doesn’t take long to take them out and recover the missing people, along with Leo, who was badly injured in the accident.

Still, by taking it upon himself to fight his captors rather than just sit and wait for help from others is something his Libra-mates admire, and they congratulate him on a job well done, which they couldn’t have done without him in the first place.

Leo also realizes Zapp was stalking him because it was his way of serving as his bodyguard, something Libra would never let Leo go around without, considering his valuable eyes.

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Having been officially accepted into Libra and proven both to them and himself that he belongs there and has something unique to offer, Leo wanders the hospital grounds while completing his convalescence.

In a gorgeous, ‘I so want to go to there’ cemetery, he meets a philosophical ghost, White (Kugimiya Rie!), who asks him whether it’s best to fear death despite is inevitability, or not fear it out of the belief it isn’t inevitable? Some interesting food for thought from another intriguing new character, and yet another layer from among Kekkai Sensen’s elaborate multitudes to explore.

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Kekkai Sensen – 01 (First Impressions)

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There’s so much stuff in Kekkai Sensen, and so many neat concepts and ideas and details, I couldn’t help but almost constantly be reminded of all of the stuff I’ve seen before that it reminded me of; none of it bad: from the obvious structural and stylistic parallels to Durarara!!, FLCL and Space Dandy, to the retro-futuristic New York and L.A. of Fifth Element and Blade Runner, respectively.

Put the crazy aliens of Space Dandy in a big city and you either have Star Wars’ Coruscant or the New York of Men In Black. Heck, let’s throw The Matrix in there for good measure, since we have a group of humans with super-powers who are also interested in lookin’ correct.

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Yet for all the stuff that flies by the screen, and all the other things all that stuff reminds me of, there are two themes that bind it all together and make Kekkai not only approachable, but compelling, and those are love and family. The same kind of love and family that Kyousogiga was suffused with in the midst of all its chaos and zaniness and colorful characters and places.

As it jumps back and forth through the timeline of the first episode, there’s a keen surefootedness in play. Kekkai keeps track of all of its pieces and knows exactly where it wants them to end up, and what to do with them when they’re there. In this way, hapless protagonist Leo Watch ends up right where he wants to be, either by luck or clever fate.

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New York/Jerusalem’s Lot is a bit foggy, but it’s also gorgeous, and the architecture just won’t quit. Even better, the show isn’t afraid to carve and peel and chop those comely skyscrapers up like vegetables for a chili.

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There’s a nice irreverent atmosphere to the proceedings, nicely demonstrated with some superb back-and-forth camera panning across the penthouse office atop one of those carved-up buildings. The three members of Libra whom Leo encounters take the building’s “haircut” pretty well.

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But back to love and family. Leo is pretty sure he and his family came to New York hoping to find a miracle. Specifically, to heal his sister Michella (Mizuki Nana…Hi Ange!) so she could walk. Things didn’t turn out so well: some kind of demon offered a pair of super-powered eyes to one sibling, but the other had to go blind. Ironically, it was Leo who was paralyzed by fear in that moment, and his paralyzed sister who sprang into action, telling the demon to take her eyes.

It’s an act of selflessness and unconditional love for her brother, but ever since that tragic day, Leo has also been acting out of love, searching for the answers that could lead to the restoration of his sister’s mobility and sight. And he’s spent enough time in New York to see the abnormal—and there’s certainly a lot of it—as the normal.

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As their name suggests, Libra works to maintain a balance between the underworld entities vying for power and the remaining normal human population. Their work would seem to never end, as guys like the self-styled “King of Depravity” Femt are always stirring up heaps of trouble. Fortunately, thanks to their “Blood Martial Arts”, Libra is able to keep those entities honest.

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They bring in Leo thinking he was “Johnny Landis”,  but because an upside-down photo of him closely resembles a right-side-up photo of a demon, it was an honest mistake. It’s a fortuitous one, though. Not only does Leo find just the people he wanted to talk with, but they gain someone with eyes powerful enough to detect a gate the size of a flea on a monkey and squish both gate and flea, leaving the monkey unharmed and ruining Femt’s “fun.”

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In a continuation of the show’s irreverent tone (except where Michella is concern, in which case things are more sober and serious), Leo ends the day by trekking back to the diner where he’s a regular, which is still open for business even though it’s been leveled by the recent ruckus. He promised his busybody waitress Vivian (Sawashiro Miyuki) he’d wash dishes, after all!

Kekkai Sensen is a lot of fun, and its opening episode really paralleled Libra’s role by balancing zaniness and chaos with heart, soul, and humor. If they can maintain that balance, and keep of the quality of the eye candy, it’s a Spring keeper for sure.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 07

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The quest for Chaika’s fathers remains continues, as Guy helpfully materializes in the night to point them towards the next hero, one Simon Scania of the Koenigsegg Empire (both Scania and Koenigsegg are Swedish automakers…perhaps the writer is a petrolhead?), last seen four years ago in the town of Rademio. Unfortunately for them, the Alberic Corps has decided to defy the Council of Six after all and keep up their pursuit, confronting them on the outskirts of Rademio.

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When Tooru says he’s going to have trouble with an opponent, he has our full attention, and indeed, they run into trouble fast against Alberic, Nikolai, Vivi and Leo. They only end up escaping serious trouble thanks to their trump card Dominica, who luckily happens to be in the mood to transform into a dragoon (which could be cooler-looking, IMO) and carry the trio to safety. Just like that, we’re done with the Alberic Corps in the first eight minutes. This was fine with me; I don’t mind a little bit of them like we got here, but I don’t like it when they steal too much screen time from the core trio…er, quartet.

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While Tooru, Akari and Chaika owe their skins to Dominica, her fickle nature leads to their next dilemma, as she refuses to fly them around over the dangerous “Valley of No Return.” Not hanging about, Chaika starts climbing down, with the other three following, including Dominica in human form, strangely enough. The rocks they cling to end up crumbling, sending them falling. Then things get weird: Tooru wakes up, leaning against an unfamiliar stone wall, with Chaika leaning against him. When she awakes, she starts talking…normally.

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Illusion fog is nothing new, but I appreciated the sneakiness of dropping us in a strange situation and delaying the explanation, if only for a time. It’s also an opportunity for some comedy that isn’t just superfluous fluff: as Tooru falls more and more for the normal-talking Fantasy Chaika, he gets more and more lost in the fog. When Chaika betrays him, hopping on horseback with Alberic, who announces their marriage, and handing her Gaz’s decaying arm like a bouquet, Tooru is devastated, but just as convinced it’s reality.

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The episode could have just as easily placed the others in fantasy worlds (Akari and Chaika’s Fantasy Toorus could have been pretty funny), I like the decision to have Dominica save them and for the three of them to be protected from the fog with a magic barrier. This also means they have to watch Tooru’s fantasy, which is why when he draws close enough for them to grab him and pull him in the barrier, Akari slaps him into coherence a bit harder than she probably needed to, and Dominica gets some pretty good punches…’cause why not?

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After some nifty utilization of Chaika’s Gundo (interestingly, there’s no mention of her low magic fuel level), they destroy the source of the magic fog, revealing the hermit Simon Scania, a bitter, somewhat manic shell of his former self. Unlike previous heroes, he doesn’t give a hoot about the remains in his possession; he’d been spending the last few years stewing over his friends betraying them by having the fog create the same situations for intruders, the bones of which litter the area.

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The guys grab Gaz’s leg and wisely slink away from the wretchedness. In the more lighthearted parting scene, in which Chaika starts to mention how she didn’t mind Tooru’s fantasies of her (before the betrayal part, which she’d never do), but she gets angry when Tooru laughs it off, while Akari peeks her head out to dispute his claim she’s “out of the question” for him. It’s not so much he’s unaware both girls like him; he’s just fine with things as they are.

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