Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 02

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The OP presages Shirayuki as a Court Herbalist of Clarines, but we’re not quite there yet; this episode opens on her job hunt as a new resident of Wistal, capital of Clarines. She learns there’s an annual exam to become a Court Herbalist, but she wants to educate herself about the herbs of Clarines, knowing that good medicines need good herbs need good land.

Prince Zen is delighted to get out of stodgy paperwork when she visits the palace, and he escorts her to the dock where she’ll travel to the mountain isle Koto to explore, but not before Zen remarks how their desire to learn more about their world and become better at what they do is very similar.

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But when two townsfolk talk about how unusual Shirayuki’s hair is (and what it could make them if sold), along with Shirayuki saying “she’ll be back by nightfall”, it’s pretty much a given that things aren’t going to turn out peachy for her on this trip. Sure enough, she’s captured by a young rogue named Mihaya, who—you guessed it—wants to make money off that hair.

Just when I was hoping Shirayuki would attempt escape as soon as she could, she does just that, sawing at the ropes, locking Mihaya in the cell, then using her knowledge of herbs to make a smoke that temporarily paralyzes him. This captivity represents a roadblock on Shirayuki’s self-decided road, with a detour to a road not of her choosing. And she simply isn’t gonna have it.

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She makes it out of the seemingly abandoned, labyrinthine castle, only to get cornered once more by Mihaya, who is now pissed off. He then gives her patter about how he’ll sell her to someone rich so she can live a comfy life of luxury. Unlike the last time she was kidnapped (by Prince Raj), she doesn’t give in, replying with a “Fuck That Noise” expression.

For this defiance, she’s about to take whatever punishment Mihaya is about to dish out, when Zen appears in the nick of time, which is just when we thought he’d arrive. Yes, the guy is rescuing the girl again, but Shirayuki is hardly a damsel in distress, demonstrating she did everything an unarmed person could have done in her situation. Also, she made things a lot easier for Zen by escaping from the castle.

I’d like to think if Zen hadn’t been able to make it, Shirayuki would have kept fighting Mihaya until she either escaped his clutches or he let her go out of exasperation. That’s how much faith I place in Shirayuki’s strength and resolve to travel her own path. She’s a fighter. I really like her!

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Zen also makes it clear, he’s saving Shirayuki not so he can use her as a tool, or a means to recoup a lost family fortune like Mihaya (I don’t particularly care about his story, he abducted someone, he deserves prison), but because he considers himself Shirayuki’s friend. And friends help their friends out when they’re in trouble.

Sure, I can see things being taken further than friendship, but like Shirayuki’s appointment to the Court, that’s yet to come. For now, Shirayuki resolves to watch her back, as her hair really does cause trouble; yet I like how there’s no discussion of dyeing it. Shirayuki isn’t trying to hide, she’s trying to better herself and live a free and fulfilling life doing what she loves.

Even before her trusty friends show up, those who threaten he freedom will find her a wily, resourceful handful. Bottom line: don’t mess with someone who doesn’t want to be messed with…and knows fifty ways to poison you!

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Ore Monogatari!! – 14

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Ai tells Hayato in no uncertain terms she’ll never let herself be caught alone with Takeo, and even if she does, she’s not just going to tell him how she feels. When Hayato introduced this plan last week, it seemed like a solid one with the possibility for some great emotional work…and it was, it just didn’t go quite as smoothly as Hayato intended.

But in the meantime, Takeo and Rinko practically lose it at MM Land, both laughing so much their faces hurt. The shot of a clown-like Takeo rendered as if he were part of the carousel triggered similar laughter in me, along with Takeo’s hilarious reactions to the haunted river ride.

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Hayato is a bright guy, so his chess moves end up outmaneuvering Ai, who ends up spending a lot more time alone with Takeo than she bargained for, and it’s at turns awkward and enjoyable, to the point she start to enter into the frame of mind of “well, we’re here…why don’t I tell him?” It doesn’t help matters that Takeo is pretty much his usual awesome self around her, enjoying himself with Ai and helping a lost kid get found.

When he says he doesn’t remember calling Ai a certain flower years ago, Ai is almost off the hook…until Takeo spots the very same flower and tells her if she was a flower, it would be that. This is the reinforcement of a powerful feeling Ai’s had buried in her heart ever since he said those words the first time, but that Takeo’s view of her hasn’t changed a bit even though he’s grown so much speaks volumes to her.

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Even so, she finally tries to confess, but you could say she undone by fate, in the form of the announcement that the Sparkly Parade Takeo and Yamato promised to meet up for is starting. This could have come off as a cheap conceit—doomed by the bell, rather than saved—but to Ai, it’s a fresh chance to forget about telling Takeo, which might well fundamentally change him, and simply be content with what she has.

And she is. A delicious coffee cake that represents her (bitter yet sweet) baked by Yamato, and being called a lily twice by Takeo at two different points in his life; this is enough to make her happy. She doesn’t need to look on the other side of the curtain. And because of that, perhaps Hayato’s chances aren’t as dire as he thought.

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As for Yamato, Ai prods her in the right direction once more, telling her not to worry about silly jinxes and trust in Takeo, as he trusts in her. She does so, and because they’re simply meant to be together, the crowds seem to part at just the right time for them to find each other, with Yamato jumping into Takeo’s arms with elation.

They get to watch the parade together as they hoped, and even get within kissing angle and distance before Suna accidentally interrupts with his apologies. But considering how happy these two make each other simply being in general proximity to each other, that first kiss can wait a while longer.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 13

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At the start of this episode, Takeo and Yamato prove not only that they’re an exceedingly awesome and adorable couple, but also a great team when it comes to doing nice things for people they care about. They’re also pretty proud themselves about how nicely their plan to surprise Suna goes, and are totally in sync, matching their gestures and expressions perfectly.

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Of course, Suna’s no fool, so he suspects something’s going on, but assumes that it’s just another case of his nice friends doing nice—and to his mind, unnecessary—things for him. But when the cake comes out and they remind him it’s his birthday, he suddenly gets it. Taken aback, he’s not sure how to react, until Takeo tells him simply to be happy, which Suna can get behind.

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From there, both Yamato and Suna get to witness Takeo at his job at the bro cafe (a job the owner wouldn’t let him walk away from, popular as he is). And here, we get the first sign of trouble this show has presented in some time, in the form of another guy looking for Takeo (but mistaking Suna for him).

Turns out this fellow, Oda Hayato, is a classmate of Ai’s at college, and wanted to meet the man she still clearly has feelings for, because he has feelings for Ai, and her unrequited love for Takeo is getting in the way. Still, she has no patience for him, and offers to take him to the station to be rid of him.

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When Takeo, flush with cash from his job, asks Yamato out to “MM Land” (Not Disneyland, lawyers!), Yamato gives a three-layer response of initial excitement, followed by the apparent memory of something, followed by a deflation of interest and a rejection.

It’s a complex response, one Takeo doesn’t have a hope of parsing. Thankfully, Ai is home for the long weekend right next door. Takeo meant to consult with Suna, but Ai proves even more helpful, as she says she’ll get to the bottom of it when the four go out for coffee tomorrow.

(I especially enjoyed Takeo’s inner embarrassment at storming into his best mate’s room, forgetting Ai was there, then reminiscing about how he’s done it often throughout the years, but she never seemed to mind at all.)

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The next day, Ai comes right out and asks Yamato about MM Land, and without wondering how Ai got the information, Yamato stands her ground. It takes the sudden surprise return of Hayato to wrench out the detail’s of Yamato’s hesitance to go: she’s worried about an apparent jinx that couples who go there will break up. (Hon, it’s not IKEA!)

So Hayato proposes all five of them go to MM Land tomorrow; since it isn’t a date, the jinx won’t apply. Yamato really wants to go, and go with Takeo, and vice versa, so they’re fine with it, while Suna goes along with whatever. The only one not 100% okay with this little plan is Ai.

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Later that night we find that Hayato is so serious about wanting Ai to come around to him, he came to her hometown without any plans about where to stay. Because Takeo is a great guy, and his family is totally chill and also great, he can stay at Takeo’s without any problem; an offer he takes with gratitude.

As they go to bed (way too early for his taste, but he’s a guest), Hayato talks with Takeo more about, who else, Ai, and what he says offers insight that’s in conflict with her standoffishness we see from her. She seemed genuinely concerned for him when he got in trouble, and helped him with a problem, likely saving his skin.

Like Suna, Hayato doesn’t have any trouble attracting ladies; it’s a matter of attracting the lady he likes. Right now, there’s an old flame in his way, keeping her from falling into his arms, and he wants to clear it. I don’t blame him.

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The next morning, Ai is shocked and pretty pissed off that Hayato took advantage of Takeo’s hospitality and ended up spending the night right next door to her, but in the hallway, after she threatens him with another fork (just like at the cafe!), Hayato informs her of the plan within the plan: at some point at MM Land, he’s going to separate Yamato and Takeo, giving Ai the opening she needs to tell Takeo her feelings.

Sure, it seems like this guy is barging in on Ai’s life and forcing her to do something she hasn’t done to this point, but when I consider that she’s the one who brought Takeo up in the first place (under hypnosis, mind you!) and the way he remains on her mind, tells me she may not necessarily decry an outside effort to break her out of her unrequited love cycle. The problem is she’s never told Takeo how she feels, and she should, so she can get real closure—because the closure she’s settled for isn’t cutting it.

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Of course, the way Hayato puts it—”separating” the inseparable couple—carries its own foreboding, especially when next week’s episode is called “My Jinx.” Will MM Land not care that Yamato and Takeo are with others and events conspire to threaten their bubbly relationship after all? How will Takeo take Ai’s confession (assuming she confesses)? Lots to ponder going into Ore’s second half.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 12

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It’s the halfway point of Ore Monogatari!!, so did the show do what anime of every genre typically do around this time and throw a new wrench into the works; a new conflict for Takeo and Yamato to overcome? Well, yes and no. But first, it was a pleasure to see Takeo’s athletic prowess on display in areas besides Judo.

He’s a literal wall of flesh at goalkeeper (and scores a goal on the other end by throwing it baseball-style), and surprisingly graceful on the ice rink; like a penguin underwater. The point is, Takeo is physically gifted; extremely gifted, and combined with his kind heart, makes him socially gifted; he’s always surrounded by friends.

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Yamato is just as popular with her peers, though not because she can perform awesome feats of strength. In addition to her kindness and general affability, Yamato is also pretty good at academics. In fact, it’s one thing she’s much better at than the hulking Takeo. So the “conflict”, if you even want to call it that, is borne out of the fact that eventually these two will go to college.

They both want to attend the same one, but Takeo doesn’t want to make Yamato enroll at a substandard one, so he has to study; exercising a muscle he rarely needs to simply because the rest of his body is so extraordinary.

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He initially enlists the help of Suna, but Yamato also starts stopping by Takeo’s place. When Takeo tells his mother Yamato is indeed his girlfriend, Mom and Dad gradually start to spruce the place up, even though Yamato would be the first one to tell them not to go through too much trouble for her.

What I like so much about Takeo’s parents is that A.), they’re both alive, which seems like a minority in anime; B.) they’re still happily married, with a baby on the way; and C.) they genuinely love their son and are both grateful for and protective of him. In addition, as Yamato remarks, Takeo really is a composite of his parents, with nearly equal parts of both of them in his physique and personality. Dad is tan and handsome and flashy; Mom is nurturing yet no-nonsense. Both are badass. Takeo is all of the above.

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The parents are so excited about Yamato that neither she nor Takeo can actually study, so they go to Suna’s When Takeo suddenly passes out from too much studying, it isn’t treated like any kind of serious emergency, but rather another opportunity for Yamato to snuggle with him. This time, to her horror, Suna walks in on her, but true to form he assuages her guilt, assuring her didn’t see anything and slinks out, basically saying “as you were.”

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This halfway point also didn’t provide any indications Sunakawa has any ulterior motives about being friends with Takeo, but is really just a caring, loving friend; a brother from another mother. This, again, goes against the usual anime romance archetypes, for which I’m glad. While the show was a smidge more ambiguous earlier on, it is now officially patently ridiculous to think Suna will one day try to steal Yamato from Takeo.

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Not only does he not seem to mind that this is the case, despite liking Yamato (in a non-romantic way, as a good match for his bro), but he doesn’t mope about it either. Suna’s not the most social or open guy despite his popularity, but that seems like a conscious choice rather than any kind of impasse or struggle he has to overcome. The show respects how he lives his life. Suna also derives quite a lot of fun and laughs from being friends with Takeo, as we see again when he plays charades during English study.

So the day of a benchmark (read: practice) exam for the three colleges Takeo and Yamato are trying to get into arrives. Both are bundles of nerves, but Yamato gives him moral support before they get started.

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Looking at the various subjects he studied as various enemies to vanquish, Takeo goes into the exam like a warrior entering a gauntlet. But like Yamato did in a previous test, his multiple choice answers are shifted, a mistake he feverishly tries to correct, resulting in a blizzard of eraser filings and a pool of Takeo sweat.

He gets a “D” in two of the three colleges he aimed for, and an “X” in the difficult-to-get-in one Yamato was trying for, but not only did she not get in either, in a nice bit of villainy from Suna, it’s a women’s only college anyway, so he was never going to get in no matter what!

Also, the “D”s aren’t even that big a deal, because it’s just a dry run. He’ll keep studying, Suna and Yamato will keep helping him, and I have every confidence he’ll get to go to college with Yamato, and maybe Suna too.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 11

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I used to dread beach episodes, but that was before I started watching great anime. I knew there was nothing to fear from an OM!! beach episode; on the contrary, I knew it would be a perfect opportunity for both Rinko and Takeo to take another step in their relationship: seeing each other half-naked.

One thing that’s so great about this show is that the straight-laced looking Rinko is the wild one, while the wild-looking Takeo is the straight-laced one. To him, the beach is about swimming and splitting watermelons and crabbing. To Rinko (and the rest of the guys), it’s mostly about the bods.

Rinko’s intense physical attraction to Takeo often overwhelms her, so it’s good she has a safety net of girlfriends who pick out an appropriate bikini for her, with the goal of getting his heart to skip A beat…not stop it!

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For all of Takeo’s words—both spoken and in his head—Rinko is convinced she must be at least as hot as she believes Takeo to be, or else she’s somehow not good enough. That inherent, presumed inferiority makes it tough for Rinko to reveal her swimsuit to Takeo. In fact, she reveals it to him when the sight of his rippling, sun-dappled muscles put her into a trance and she walks right into the line of fire of his watermelon-splitting stick. Thank God Takeo listens when Suna tells him to stop.

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When Takeo removes his blindfold to see what’s amiss, he catches a glimpse of his girlfriend in a bikini for the first time, and while Rinko doesn’t quite realize it, it’s Mission Accomplished. Takeo himself enters a wild hallucinatory episode, and only Suna’s calm words are able to snap him out of it. It takes effort for Takeo not to totally lose his shit over Rinko’s apocalyptic cuteness, and remind himself she’s dressed in clothes suited for the beach, just like him.

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Things continue to go bumpy for Rinko, though. When she daintily approaches him from behind at lunch, intending to snuggle up against him (something she both wants and her friends urge) his turn back at her causes her to execute Shunpo and retreat behind a column. Later, when she tries to casually grab his arm on the beach, she nearly steps on a sand castle.

Ironically, it’s Takeo who ruins the castle, when Rinko runs off, embarrassed. But thanks to Suna, whom the girls building the sand castle are more than willing to let take over, Takeo can go after his girlfriend.

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As the sun starts to set, Takeo finds her, sulking by the water. Rinko thinks she’s been “really bad” today, thinking only of herself and causing trouble for others. She’s obviously being too hard on herself, so it’s nice when Takeo sits beside her, she can stop worrying about that and draw one of those Japanese love umbrella things in the sand (which Takeo valiantly protects from the rising tide).

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Takeo doesn’t know if it’s the sunset, the swimsuit, or something else, but Rinko looks particularly beautiful to him there and then. The animation sells it, making great use of color, light, movement, and intimate close-ups. We see Rinko exactly as Takeo does, just as we saw how she sees him.

So in awe of the beauty before him, Takeo finally says not “I love her” in his head, but “I love you” out loud, to her face. She reciprocates the sentiment, adding the modifier “lots”, and if it wasn’t for Takeo’s asshole friends (not Suna mind you, who knew to stay the hell away), they’d have definitely shared their first kiss (with both of them awake) right then and there. That’s okay though; I didn’t feel cheated. That kiss will come.

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After fireworks, they board the bus home, and Rinko and Takeo make plans to hang out again, this time at a fireworks festival, where Rinko will try to get his heart to skip with a yukata, believing she failed to do so in a swimsuit. But she couldn’t be more wrong.

As Takeo looks on, he remarks to himself how these two are so rarely on the same page. Yet it likely doesn’t matter, because they’re both so happy. We the audience know that nothing in either of their heads would change that.

Part of what makes romance so exciting, especially early on, is not knowing everything going on in your lover’s head…and the later realization that what was in their head was everything you wanted anyway.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 04

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The magical transformations girls make in Magical Girl shows often go hand in hand with their personal growth. It’s as much about discovery and mastery of their identity as much as their powers.

Pleiades is no different from this convention; where it continues to distinguish itself is in the execution and the emotional impact of its situations. Last week was about Subaru. This week, it’s Hikaru’s turn to get fleshed out.

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At the same time, the show continues to incrementally extend the reach of its magical girl action with each passing episode, much to my delight. First the sky, then the boundary between Earth and space, and now…the moon. The training, involving being able to attain not only escape velocity, but a speed that will ensure they don’t miss school! I love it.

While largely about the highly intelligent and talented, yet underachieving Hikaru’s personal emotional impasse with her similarly intelligent, talented, overachieving parents, there’s also room this week for Subaru’s weekly visit to Minato’s garden of encouragement, where he plants the seed of believing someone, and being believed, if there’s no reason for them to think you’re lying.

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That’s important, because Hikaru’s family communicates their daily whereabouts primarily through whiteboard. Her apartment may look empty and lonely at first glance, but that board is crucial, dutifully filled out as it is every day without fail: it’s the way they devised to always stay in contact in spirit, if not often in person.

Before leaving for the moon, Hikaru makes something up on the board, once again “doing things halfway”. But then she decides to wipe out the white lie on the whiteboard and write where she’s actually going: the Moon.

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It’s another awesome journey full of grace and grandeur; another wonderful study on the full breadth of magical girl power. I especially liked the different, more subtle sound space made once the girls were clear of Earth’s atmo, and I really enjoyed Hikaru’s cute little dream where her subconscious’ version Subaru as a bit of an idiot—only to learn Subaru shared her dream!

That’s also key because Subaru knows about Hikaru’s unease with her father and the song he wrote. One night she heard music in his practice room even though he wasn’t in there, and decided to write a measure of music in a place where he had gotten stuck. It’s something she always felt guilty about, worried she was interfering in her parents fully achieving their dreams.

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Where she’s wrong is that she is the shared dream of her parents; one far more important than any concerto or astronomical discovery. When her dad sees she wrote down “Moon!” on the whiteboard, he and her mom work together to send his piano music to the Moon; to the cherished daughter they don’t feel they deserve.

She didn’t mess up her dad’s music; she helped him finished it, and the loving way he plays it demonstrates his pride and gratitude for that. The nabbing of their biggest fragment yet is a great product of their lunar excursion, but it’s overshadowed by Hikaru finally being able to show her feelings in front of her friends, who may be initially shocked by her tears, but are also happy they’re seeing another side of their friend.

So, all in all another very good episode from Pleiades. I look forward to seeing who’s turn it will be to get a little more fleshed out next week—Itsuki? Nanako?—and hope the show’s expansion will proceed deeper out into the solar system, and beyond!

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Houkago no Pleiades – 03

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I entered my third week of Pleiades a bit ambivalent. Here was a nice-looking show with a mild degree of Gainax flair whose most glaring flaw was a slavish adhesion to the well-tread magical girl formula, with a hint of repetition Even the girls seem a bit listless in their cosplay club, wondering whether they’re just going through the motions in vain, having worked hard to secure another engine fragment, only to have it snatched away by that stuck-up crimson-haired twerp.

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The alien president tells the girls it isn’t their potential that’s the problem, only their amorphous wills and resolve, which are borne out of the fact they’re in the gray area between childhood and adulthood. When Subaru comes home to see her father tinkering with defective engine parts (probably from a Subaru), she sees herself as a defective part, keeping the machine that is the group of girls from working properly.

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At another accidental visit to Minato’s garden, she laments her crippling hesitation in making decisions, but when Minato asks her the question “do you want to be with them?” she doesn’t hesitate; she does. It’s not that she hasn’t made a decision, she’s just scared of executing. But Minato tells her she shouldn’t think of herself as the only one who’s scared. When you have friends, you cease being defined merely by yourself, but by others, revealing things you never knew you possessed.

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Despite thinking she’s a fifth wheel, what Subaru possesses, at least in the immediate present upon returning to the clubroom, is the ability to amplify the signal of Nanako’s tracking circle, which allows them to pinpoint the next fragment. Just like Subaru said, her friends were waiting for her. Far from being left behind, they needed her power in order to proceed.

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Pleiades truly distinguished itself this week, both in breaking the pattern of the first two eps and greatly expanding the depth and breadth of the girls’ powers under the Pleiadian, who is able to harness more of their potential the more unusual situations they find themselves in. This time, neither they nor Minato manage to grab the fragment in the sky, and it drops into the ocean, but because they’re magical girls, they don’t have to worry about the lack of air or the crushing pressure of those depths…though they do have to change into swimsuits! Umi Monogatari, anyone?

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The expansion continues when, after they surface with the fragment, and the duel with Minato continues, Itsuki, their best flyer, is able to level up thanks to help from Subaru spotting the wind. This level-up is accompanied by even more overt Subaruization of Itsuki’s drive shaft, complete with Forester grille and instrumentation. Where before she was hitting the rev limiter above a certain altitude, now she can soar ever higher into the sky, with the others in tow. Aoi then uses her athletic prowess to knock the fragment away from Minato for the others to catch.

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Before they know it, they’ve risen all the way up into space, adding yet another layer of grandeur and discovery to their exploits this week. Minato follows them even here, but this time Subaru uses strong, uncompromising words to force his retreat. She rejects all the mean things he says, and insists they have as much a right to the fragments as they do, and she won’t hear her and her friends be called failures.

After he’s gone, the girls can “hear space”, their potential realized to a level never before achieved. It’s very grand and a bit trippy thanks to the ambient music and striking visuals.

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The episode closes back down on the good old earth with a nice family moment. Her father tells her she’s not some manufactured part that can only serve one purpose. Rather she can take any shape she wants at any time, and indeed, that’s what we observed from her and her friends: all of them chip in here and there, according to their individual strengths, and together they form a a humming fragment-collecting engine to be reckoned with. All they have to do is have confidence in themselves and trust in one another, and they’ll do fine.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 02

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Pleiades is undeniably pretty and inoffensive show, but at the end of two episodes the forgiving sheen of newness has worn off, revealing what is (and was from the start, really) a fairly lightweight and highly derivative affair.

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Whether being very reminiscent of a show I’ve already watched is grounds for dropping depends on the show it reminds me of, and in this case, Pleiades is at a a distinct disadvantage. It’s directed by the same guy who helmed FLCL, while its obvious thematic and aesthetic inspiration would appear be Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

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Pleiades isn’t nearly as original as Fooly nor as dark and profound as Puella, and if we’re honest, contributes virtually nothing new to stand apart from either. But to be fair, both those shows cast huge shadows…and despite its directorial pedigree and familiar milieu, it’s also not really trying to approach the greatness of those singular classics.

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Rather, it’s content to have a good old time bringing two rootable former friends, who aren’t quite sure why they forgot one another or got split up in the first place, back together. Subaru and Aoi are the focus of this episode, with the latter giving the former flying lessons.

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Again, there’s nothing either deep or groundbreaking, but the two co-leads still made me care about them reconnecting, and indeed its the power of their friendship, and a mutually-remembered song, that nets them two big engine fragments for their alien president.

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Then Minato swoops in and snatches one, and here’s where the show falls down a bit. While he seems to be a nice enough kid in that hidden fountain garden room, to the point he almost resembles a potential love interest for Subaru, his complete character shift to sinister bully feels arbitrary, not to mention repetitive.

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Until there’s a little more revealed about why he’s picking on the girls and Subaru in particular, Minato will remain a rather dull enigma. But despite his sabotage, the girls are making progress, and have even secured a room at their school under the aegis of the official establishment of the “Cosplay Research Club”; as good a cover for a group of magical schoolgirls as any!

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Houkago no Pleiades – 01 (First Impressions)

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FLCL is one of our favorites here in the office—I know I often check Craigslist for used Vespas—and Zane is a fan of the first Medaka Box. So when the director of both is involved with a new show, we at least take a look. And my first impressions of it are pretty good.

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So what have we got? A solid, straightforward, and earnest new entry in the magical girl genre, with enough self-awareness of the legacy it’s carrying on and including enough unique details to keep it interesting. This show will never be accused of inventing the wheel with regards to its character types or the situations they find themselves in, so it comes down to those details, technical execution, and how it makes me feel.

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For those who want a quick(ish) synopsis, here goes: Subaru (pink hair) is a relatively unremarkable, slightly slow and clumsy girl who loves stargazing and ends up invited into a secret club of classmates, including her former friend Aoi (blue hair) by their president (a jellyfish-lke alien).

The balance of the quintet is made up of Itsuki (raven hair), Nanako (lilac), and Hikaru (orange). There’s also a sickly dude Subie meets who has crimson hair. Whatever your favorite color—or hat type, for that matter—there’s a girl for you!

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We follow Subaru through her brisk initiation, which half-explains things along the way, because even the already initiated know very little about exactly what’s going on. For those not aware, Subaru is the Japanese term for the constellation Pleiades, and also the brand name for Fuji Heavy Industries’ automobile division, with the constellation as their logo.

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Some of HnP’s amusing details may only appeal to gear/petrolheads or owners, but Subaru’s family owns a Subaru R1, and the front ends of the broom-like “drive shafts” they use to fly resemble the front fascias of various Subaru models. Whether this is stealthy product placement or simply the creators’ love of the marque, I for one love Subarus, so I’m glad they made the connection.

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Whether it’s flying over them in airplanes or bursting through them in a movie or tv show, there’s something awe-inspiring about the cloudtops at dusk, especially when there’s a big rainstorm just below them. That breathlessness is captured perfectly when Subaru’s drive shaft shoots her into the stratosphere, followed closely by her new comrades, in order to capture an engine fragment of their alien president’s spaceship.

They fail on their first try, and indeed have never succeeded up to that point, but when Subaru realizes Aoi doesn’t know what she’s doing any more than she does, she finds her confidence and leads them back, and this time they succeed in cutting off, degenerating, and finalizing the fragment, all terms that are intentionally not expanded upon, because there’s no time for elaborate explanations, even if the other girls had them, which they don’t.

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Enter the good/bad antagonist: when Subaru is attacked by a “dark shooting star”, the crimson-headed bishonen Minato saves her from falling, but steals the fragment away, as if in payment. However, the fact of the matter is, Subaru, slow and clumsy she may be, was the group’s missing piece, and she even manages to score a mini consolation fragment. The episode closes with the new quintet watching the meteor shower Subaru had been looking forward to all day.

I was looking forward to HnP as soon as I heard about it, and while it wasn’t life-changingly fantastic, it was a solid, colorful, entertaining effort with a hearty helping of whimsy, which is easy on the eyes (unlike Sailor Moon Crystal, which I couldn’t quite get through) but not too taxing on the ol’ noggin. An ideal show for hump day.

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Durarara!! x2 Shou – 12 (Fin)

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Everyone seeks purpose and relevance in life, and everyone has a code; boundaries they won’t cross to attain those things. Drrr! is largely about what happens when the interests and the methods of a great number of people clash, which is almost always immensely entertaining, especially when some of those people can carry sportbikes on their shoulders.

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The book on Chapter one of three of Drrr!x2 comes to a close with “Adversity Makes a Man Wise.” Shizuo is the force that ceases the brawl between the Rogue Dollars and Saitama, as well as Anri and Varona. Non’s kidnapper is punished, and both sides are satisfied and withdraw.

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Also, Walker opens his eyes. I would too if I saw Anri handling Saika.

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But that’s far from the end of the adversity. Mikado watched firsthand (while his vision wasn’t wreck from that flash grenade, that is) what the gang he founded has become. He doesn’t like it, and wants to do something about it; no more hanging back.

But first, Varona meets the unstoppable, nigh invincible Shizuo, who unlike Celty or Anri, is a full-blown human being, which both astounds and frightens her, because nothing she throws at him seems to work, nor can she get away with Sloan and Akane.

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Shizuo sets his mind to rescuing Akane, so after some car soccer, instant automatic weapon disintegration (IAWD), and box truck punching, he succeeds. Akane is confounded he’d save his would-be assassin, but he’s just glad she wasn’t hurt, and a new, unlikely friendship is forged, with a helmet-scratching Celty as witness. This was Varona’s first defeat this week, but by no means her last.

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Mikado, meanwhile, tracks down Chitage and Non to formally take responsibility as founder of the Dollars. Chitage doesn’t think he’s lying, but isn’t entirely impressed either, and believes the few moments of time he has to look over Mikado is sufficient to conclude Mikado has no business running the Dollars, and advises him to give it up at his earliest convenience and settle into “the ordinary life” he seems better suited to.

Little does he know that ordinary life is the very thing Mikado escaped his hometown and founded the Dollars to avoid. If he were to quit on them now, it would “negate his being.” He may be better suited for ordinary life, but he doesn’t want to live that way. He wants to be in the thick of it.

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Mikado isn’t the only one patronized and not taken entirely seriously. Varona is too, after her quiet meal with Sloan is suddenly interrupted by Aozaki and Akabayashi. Like her, I thought she was tougher than these guys due to her military training, but they bring her and Sloan down with grim efficiency, only to reveal that Varona’s dad has struck a deal with their organization to secure her safety and retrieve her.

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Dennis, Simon, and Egor arrive to pick her up, and point out that, after all, she’s “still a little girl” who hasn’t “hardened” yet, remarking that kids liker her can still “change in all kinds of ways.” She may have become an assassin at a very young age, but she’s not necessarily destined to be one forevermore. And the yakuza ambush really put her skills into perspective; up to that point, she’d depended heavily on firepower, stealth, and surprise. Not to mention her youthful exuberance over Ikebukuro dulled her senses.

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Speaking of hardening, that’s what Mikado aims to do, and furthermore, what he has to do to preserve the Dollars as he envisioned them. All the adversity he’s faced really has made him wise to the truth of his situation: to be able to take control of a group with no rules, he needs power, so he accepts Aoba’s offer to become the leader of Blue Square along with the Dollars, even forming a blood contract by uncharacteristically stabbing Aoba through the hand with a pen. Then again, Mikado is pissed Anri was put in harm’s way, so he’s mad.

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But once that contract is signed, he snaps back to his usual chipper self, even offering to dress the wound he just gave Aoba. In a way, he owes Aoba one for opening his eyes to the fact that he shouldn’t fear being left behind by all the strange and exciting things in the city, because he hasn’t caught up to it yet. His journey is incomplete, and this was never a static situation. He’s going to fix the Dollars and stay in the mix.

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We close with one more person being one-upped at his own game, as Varona was: Izaya, who had been slipperier than teflon throughout the show. Like Mikado, even he didn’t realize the full scope of his actions, and ended up stepping on the toes of one Yodogiri Jinnai, who didn’t want Shizuo and the Azuki group getting mixed up. For that, Jinnai literally takes Izaya out, leaving him lying in a pool of blood in a crosswalk. A provocative and enticing teaser for Chapter 2, to air in July.

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Durarara!! x2 Shou – 11

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This episode’s title references the fact there’s no use crying over spilled milk, which is, in Mikado’s case, the perversion of his Utopian Dollars gang into a regular old gang. His free-wheeling philosophy for the group lent itself to attracting scoundrels, and scoundrels are precisely what he has to deal with this week, fellow Dollars or no.

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Even though there’s no rule against Dollars taking hostages, it’s something Mikado won’t accept. Realizing the milk has been spilled, he grabs some proverbial paper towels and starts sopping that milk up. Even he can’t avoid action rather than talk; things have progressed too far for that.

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Meanwhile, in that schoolyard, Kodata and Chitage start brawling in the school yard,  but even though Chitage is still battered from his encounter with Shizuo, the two are almost exactly evenly matched, even throwing the occasional identical punch, kick, or headbutt. They do plenty of damage, but no one seems to have the advantage.

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Mikado can’t do much against small-fry Dollar punks who kidnap Chitage’s girlfriend Non and her three friends (one of them Mikado’s classmate), other than stand in their way until they knock him down and pummel him. But the fact he stood up to them and for his ideals of what the Dollars should and shouldn’t be, means a lot.

Also, we knew Anri wasn’t far behind him, and lucky for Mikado, she’s tough enough for both of them. Mikado shows his own resolve by vowing he’ll keep pursuing the kidnappers, before even seeking medical treatment. Anri decides to accompany him, assuring him she can be “somewhat useful” (understatement of the year).

It’s a nice moment for these two, with Anri in the role as protector, but Mikado not digging to deep into why she’s so good at protecting, because it’s a sore subject.

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Masaomi is getting more and more restless in self-exile, and Saki picks up on it. She reminds him while she’s his girlfriend, they’re not friend friends in the same way he is with Mikado and Anri. She also assures him no matter what he does, Mikado will never hate him. He’s essentially crying over spilled milk too—worried about the ramifications of his running away—but he has Saki’s full support to return to Ikebukuro and help Mikado out. And right now, Mikado needs all the help he can get.

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Kodata manages to finally beat Chitage, but both men are about to keel over. Kodata asks Chitage to call off his boys, and in exchange, Kodata will make sure his comrades get justice. But when some of those comrades appear, the arrogant leader of whom wants to take Kodata down a few pegs, Kodata and Chitage join forces to teach them a lesson.

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Then the hostages come out, and all of a sudden superior strength is no longer the order of the day. Mikado and Anri have arrived, but before they can do anything Anri is jumped by Varona, who is as curious about Anri as she is disappointed Mikado is just a human.

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Varona sets off a flash-bang, and in the ensuing disorientation and chaos, Dollars brought by Walker and Erika rescue the hostages, while Walker decides to  lay some Tsukuyomi Komoe-style justice of his own.

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Then Shizuo shows up, holding Varona’s motorcycle like someone rolling in a keg about to join the pah-tay. This episode aptly illustrate’s Drrr!’s knack for snowballing events nearly out of control, as well as plucking numerous characters from every corner of Ikebukuro and dropping them in the same schoolyard.

But with Mikado on the scene and Masaomi on the way, all that spilled milk is on its way to being cleaned up.

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Durarara!! x2 Shou – 10

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I find it best to never underestimate Drrr!!’s capacity to swiftly flesh a new character at the drop of the hat. It’s done it successfully with Ruri and Varona, so I shouldn’t be surprised it did it with the Anri-haired Awakasu Akane as well.

Like Anri, Akane is a strong, gentle, good and decent person. When she sought to stop the bullying of a classmate, she did so not knowing the clout the Awakasu name carried, so she believed the matter was resolved of her own volition.

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When that fiction is broken and Akane learns that her dad is a gangster, it has the effect you’d expect on a good person like Akane: She’s devastated, and can’t live in that house of lies anymore.

She does what girls her age do in such a situation (Google “running away from home”), leading her to Namie and Izaya, who proceed to sic her on Heiwajima, who he says is a hitman targeting her dad. And now we know why Akane was trying to off Shizuo: whatever else her dad is, he’s still her dad.

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Frankly, Namie and Izaya kind of piss me off for not observing the unspoken age limit on manipulating people, but I guess they simply couldn’t resist starting mayhem, and in particular antagonizing Shizuo, who remains on the run his week.

Celty also finally realizes a headless horse and buggy are attracting too much attention, and morphs her black stuff into a black van; but Varona and Sloan are still on their tail.

When Shiki shows Shinra photos of his murdered men, Shinra immediately confirm’s Shiki’s suspicion that Shizuo didn’t do it. When considering who then did it, he remembers those vicious serial murders, which we know were committed by Shizuo’s brother’s new girlfriend Ruri. Small town, this!

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While trudging almost triumphantly about the burnt ruins of Ruri’s family residence, Izaya essentially admits he manipulated Mikado while posing as Kida, and basically challenges him to do something about it, and mocks Mikado for trusting Kida as his best friend so readily. He seems to be trying to rattle the comfy cage Kida’s built around himself, hoping he’ll break out and rejoin the Ikebukuro fray? I’m guessing.

Meanwhile, Chitage and Kodata circle each other, with Chitage wanting satisfaction for the Dollars recent transgressions against Toramaru, and Kodata telling him to bring him on. Even though he has no idea who those rogue Dollars are (that’s the way the Dollars work), he accepts Chitage’s assertion that the whole group is responsible for the actions of the others…though in Dotachin’s case I think it’s because he wouldn’t mind fighting Chitage.

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Sure enough, a colorless Dollar on the school ground spots them fighting and alerts the others, and not long after that, another Dollar sends everyone a photo of one of Chitage’s girlfriends in a cafe, suggesting they kidnap her for leverage.

Izaya is amused, Shizuo (atop the iconic Sunshine 60 tower) is disgusted, and Aoba is displeased: suddenly not everything is going as he’d planned. Mikado took off without giving an answer, and he suspects Izaya is still pulling the strings somewhere. Speaking of strings, he finds a black one on the bike Varona planted in the warehouse, and decides see where it leads.

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It will eventually lead him to Celty. She gets Mikado, Anri, and Akane to a parking garage where they assess their next moves, during which Celty gives Shooter a head far more frightening, in my opinion, than no head at all. When Mikado gets the two messages, he goes running, and when Celty shows Anri, she follows him

Sloan sticks with Celty and Akane while Varona tails Mikado, having a simultaneously accurate and overblown impression of his power and ability. On the one hand, he’s a passive weinie with no appreciable value, skills, or spine. On the other, he’s the reason the Dollars exist at all.

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Durarara!! x2 Shou – 09

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Huh…now why did I get the strange suspicion that almost nothing happened in this episode? While events did take place, the episode came off as a somewhat frustratingly slow-paced incremental step forward, and paling in comparison to episode 4, the show’s best outing to date.

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It doesn’t help that this week’s voice-over is provided by some yakuza guy we’ve never heard of and couldn’t care less about, who repeats “Disturbing” over and over again like some kind of mantra.

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So what does actually happen? Mobsters try to bring in Shizuo, even as Shiki doubts he was the one responsible for wasting his men. Aoba continues to bully Mikado until Toramaru thugs show up, and then Celty gets Mikado out of there, and Varona follows them. Anri and Akane are also accosted by mobsters but Celty and Mikado meet up with them and they all escape on Shooter, who Celty transforms into a horse and carriage.

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The Dollars/Toramaru conflict is largely de-toothed this week, which is a shame, because the prospects of an all-out gang war brought a welcome sense of danger to the comfortable environs of Ikebukuro, just as Aoba’s ultimatum put Mikado in a position to actually make a decision on something. Unfortunately, we get neither the danger nor the decision.

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At least there’s some complexity to the conflict, what with Celty not knowing what her role should be (though she doesn’t pick sides when she rescues Mikado) and Varona continuing to stalk her (though Varona is still quite ignorant of the situation; not to mention Celty’s gender). Varona, like us, watches some stuff happen, but it doesn’t really us anything new or exciting. Varona expresses her excitement in the hunt for something her books haven’t prepared her for, but…we knew this already.

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Celty’s rescue of Mikado is a cop-out for what was a pretty tense situation. Anri and Akane’s encounter with the yakuza, who in turn more Toramaru thugs and are insulted by their boorish manners, is a little more interesting, in that, again, it adds layers of complexity to the conflict unfolding. But it’s really only a fragment.

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Previous episodes succeeded in telling cohesive stories within the story, but everything this week simply felt cobbled together and devoid of any payoff. I can weather such episodes as long as actual payoffs are on the way soon, but considering this is only the first of three cours planned for Durarara!!x2, this episode has made it apparent the show isn’t in any particular hurry to deliver further significant developments.

Still, I’d hope that un-compelling transitional episodes such as this remain a rarity. Variably clever dialogue and whimsical coincidences can only make up for a lack of narrative urgency so long.

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