Houkago no Pleiades – 06

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When the Pleiadian spaceship starts to shift into their dimension, the plan to rebuild its engine accelerates, as does the need to find as many fragments as possible. For once, the girls are able to snag one without interference from Dark Minato, but it turns out to be a trap he sets that lets him discover their base.

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He places a magical barrier around the entire school, trapping Subaru inside. After delving into Hikaru and Itsuki’s pasts, personalities, and motivations the last two weeks, HnP swings back around to the pink-haired protagonist, face-to-face with Dark Minato on solid ground for the first time. But before he can get too close, her Drive Shaft activates and brisks her away.

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She ends up in Nice Minato’s observatory, in an embrace neither are embarrassed about. Subaru is scared, and finds solace and comfort here, with him. Is he an old friend she forgot? Why are there two versions of him? Neither of these questions are explained, but as usual, this Minato is able to provide some advice that helps her press forward, despite her fear. But this visit feels like a goodbye.

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A path leads to a new exit, but when she opens the doors to her friends’ delight, all of a sudden the whole damn school is floating up in orbit, just above the Pleiadian spaceship. Exactly why this happens isn’t explained, but it’s very surreal and cool.

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The President says if the spaceship fully shifts and awakens all of his countrymen, it would be very bad, without going into detail, so when Dark Minato attacks them, Subaru blocks his path. She’s decided she’s not giving up the fragments, she’ snot letting him destroy the school, and she’s not letting him hurt Aoi. He gettin’ nothing!

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Even though she’s scared and shaking, it doesn’t matter; she’s not backing down. Dark Minato is taken aback, as he’s used to using fear and little else to keep his adversaries down. Likely due to Subaru’s resolve and show of strength, their Drive Shafts transform into more recognizable Subaru products, and the five of them create a spark that knocks the ship back into a higher dimension where it will be safe until the engine is completed.

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The ship, the school, and her friends are safe, but when she returns to the magical conservatory, it’s dark and barren, and Minato is nowhere to be found. Will they ever meet again? Or was Subaru’s decision to walk down that path and exit out the rooftop door a symbol of moving on from the security blanket of Minato’s counsel; that moving forward meant leaving a part of herself behind?

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P.S. While I still like this show, it’s likely to be next on the dropping block, as Zane wants me to take Re-Kan! off his hands since he’s dropped Mikagura to review Ore Monogatari!!. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 05

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The cosplay club’s class is doing the play “The Lady in the Tower”, and pegged the elegant Itsuki as the princess and the tomboyish Aoi as the prince. Aoi, who is actually pretty girly, gets all gung-ho about making a dress for Itsuki, and Itsuki maintains a pleasant composure and lets everyone do what they want…but she seems a little uneasy, and wigs out when Subaru pulls her bangs back.

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In another Minato’s Garden sequence that calls into question where exactly Subaru actually is during such sequences (it seems likely they’re either in a shared dream or Subaru’s), Subaru likens Minato to the lady in the tower, only he doesn’t see any point in ever leaving; maybe because he doesn’t know what’s out there, or maybe because he’s exactly where he should be.

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In any case, he motivates Subaru to have another go to see what’s up with Itsuki, and they end up “going for a drive” which is a great euphemism (if a bit understated) for ascending into low earth orbit at dusk (they’ve collected enough fragments that this is now child’s play even for Subaru). There, Itsuki tells her about the time she herself was a tomboy, who’d put herself in danger.

While climbing a tree, the wind took her hat, and believing she could fly, leapt off the tree to catch it. The fall gave her a scar, for which her parents blamed her brother. From that point on, Itsuki vowed never to cause problems for others again. The wound on her forehead was still fresh when she saw the Pleiadian ship break up, the event that brought her together with the other girls.

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While up in orbit, the Pleiadian alerts Subaru and Itsuki to a “nearby” fragment, that he tries to draw to them, but instead it draws all of them to it. This results in the expected but still awesome expansion of the scale of the girls’ playground to include the rest of the solar system. In a particularly thrilling and charming sequence, the girls pass Mars, the Belt, and Jupiter while describing all of the foods their colors remind them of.

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When they finally come to a stop in a dense field of ice beads, the camera pulls way, way back to reveal they’re floating over the rings of Saturn, arguably the system’s most photogenic and charismatic planet. The pull-back creates another grand sense of scale; a scale larger than anything that came before. Indeed, the show even mentions the rings are as wide as five earths.

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Naturally, Minato (who may or may not be the same Minato in Subaru’s garden scenes…I’m just not sure yet) was able to follow the girls and tries to snatch the frag, but loses sight of it. Itsuki comes up with the idea of barreling through the rings, which flow like a river, to reveal the frag’s hiding spot, since its mass varies from the ice beads). It’s deeper science than one would expect from a Magical Girl show, and I like it!

Minato tries to go for the frag when they uncover it, but Itsuki decides to, well, not let her hair down, but pull her bangs up, throwing caution to the wind to beat Minato to the frag. I like this more fallable, defeatable Minato better than the bully of earlier episodes. I also liked Subaru and the others’ assurance that Itsuki shouldn’t fear causing problems for them; in fact, they would be honored if she did.

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Her bangs, and the scar below, were kind of like a tower Itsuki built around herself, along with the determination to avoid causing trouble, even if it meant suppressing who she was. If everyone wanted her to be a princess, she’d be one.

But now that she realizes that causing problems for those we love and care fore, and vice versa, is just part of the territory, she makes another bold move that’s true to herself by swapping roles with Aoi in the play. And it really works!

The awesome planetary adventures with dash of hard sci-fi combined subversion of Itsuki’s role in the group as “the elegant princess”, were all factors that contributed to my generous rating. Pleiades is on a roll.

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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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Medaka Box – 09

The DisCom Chairman Unzen Myouri ccompletes his introduction by destroying the music room and severely injuring the orchestra members as punishment for making too much noise. Medaka confronts him, flanked by Onigase and Shiranui, whom she is considering for Vice President. After Medaka survives his initial attacks, Unzen notifies her he’s sent DisCom assassins to take out her council, leaving her with only minutes to save them; first Kikaijima, then Akune, and finally Zenkichi, fully utilizing her seemingly superhuman strength, speed, and agility.

This episode really ratchets up the action and Gainax lunacy, as if the series had suddenly been infused with some kind of stimulant. We were dreading a week dedicated to Unzen – who is pretty irritating and one-dimensional – but fortunately he’s just the means to an end, and that end is showing Medaka in top action hero form. There are moments when it seems like she’d be right at home in Diebuster. None of this makes any sense in the context of a normal high school, but it’s clear this is no normal high school (the multimillion-dollar aquatic center was proof enough of that.)

And it does entertain. As Medaka is on her desperate quest to save her friends, she steals one assassin’s wolverine claws, borrows a pair of track spikes from Isehaya (they always manage to fit her in somehow), and what she does with a pink bike (the second defeated assassin’s weapon of choice, because why not?) when faced with a fortified DisCom barricade has to be seen to be believed. Just when we start to lose interest in this series, it bounces back with a energizing jaunt like this. Medaka Box knows how to go overboard the right way.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Dantalian no Shoka 12 (Fin)

Huey and Dalian encounter a phantom book in a batch of newspapers that give rise to zombies. When they investigate, they meet The Professor and the Red Biblioprincess, who plot to distribute the papers and unleash a zombie army that will destroy London. The Professor shoots Huey, who then escapes out a window with Dalian. He unlocks Dalian and convenes with the “Inner Dalian”, tries to release her, and acquires the phantom book that eliminates the zombies. Hal and Flamberge burn the remaining papers, and the Professor flees. Huey and Dalian continue their quest to hunt down phantom books.

“I go on to tomorows unknown,” says Huey. Well, he won’t be going alone. He’ll have a sweet-toothed biblioprincess talking down to him all the way while barely concealing her deep affection for him and everything he’s done for her. She can no longer pretend that there isn’t a part of her inside – one with pale pink hair. After all, that Inner Dalian even speaks to her when Huey is close to death’s door. She and Huey have been a good team, and will continue to be as they go on to tomorrow. The other two keykeeper/biblioprincess duos were almost afterthoughts by comparison, relegated to examples that Huey/Dalian weren’t unique in their relationship. But it isn’t like they needed to be anything more.

Gainax has a tendency to be all over the place with its series. The last I’d seen was Panty & Stocking, which couldn’t have been any different from this. But both were good. Shikabane Hime? Not so good. With only one hiccup to its name, Dantalian no Shoka was consistently fun to watch, its mysteries and themes were suitably clever and eclectic, it’s settings were pretty and often gorgeous, and the core duo and their verbal duelling grew on me as much as they grew on each other.


Rating: 4

Dantalian no Shoka 1 – First Impressions

A relatively ordinary young man is chosen by fate to protect a delicate, pallid, otherworldly girl who happens to be a repository for 900,666 mystical grimoires. She’s a walking, talking, bratty library who likes to eat. Sound familiar?

Well fear not, this isn’t an Index ripoff…far from it. It’s GAINAX, back with something completely different after the yet-to-be-concluded Panty & Stocking. Dantalian no Shoka (which refers to the girl, Dalian) is a 1920s era magical mystery romp, which so far happens to be quite good.

The chemistry between Dalian and her new keeper, ex-pilot Huey (or Lord Henry Disward) is more dynamic and complex than that of Index and Touma, the former was pretty much a pet of the latter – with magical powers. Dalian may look childish, but she has a sharp tongue and is quick to scold Huey for his ignorance.

Their literary banter is infectious, as is all the mystical exposition that forms the climax. , It also features drop-dead gorgeous lighting and backgrounds, a trippy live-action ED, and Miyuki Sawashiro lending her strong voice to Dalian. This makes a fine addition to an already very promising summer season. Rating: 4

Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt – First Impressions

This series wasn’t on my initial Fall 2010 watchlist because it looked/sounded dumb; I didn’t like the way the promotional material looked. But I couldn’t resist cracking open the first series of the season, and it was a GAINAX production after all, even on a bad day their shit ain’t bad. But holy crap, I was not prepared for Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. One series into the season, I’ve learned to not judge a book by its cover.

In classic GAINAX fashion, this series is an A.D.D. sufferer’s wet dream – or nightmare: brimming with manic energy, color, and movement. A single half-hour episode is actually split into two distinct stories. It also employs a great number of different animation styles ~ usually sticking to a highly abstract style with almost Chuck Jones-like settings. The dialogue contains coarse language; every curse in the book is thrown around with abandon, both in Japanese and English, just for the hell of it.

It’s also full of sexual content; Panty is a promiscuous blonde who’s always jumping out of bed with some random dude, while Stocking is a goth obsessed with sweets. ‘Panty’ and ‘Stocking’ are the two heroines’ names, but also those of their weapons: Panty’s panties turn into a Desert Eagle while Stocking’s stocking transforms into a katana. Their appearance also transforms into a more realistic anime style when in full ass-kicking mode, with character designs that wouldn’t be out of place in FLCL or Gurren Lagann. That I did not expect.

The spectral foes they fight are no less novel: Part I features an evil mammoth shit spirit; Part II deals with a demon that possesses a sports car, then a semi, then a train. In both parts, Panty and Stocking  are backed up by literally thousands of cop cars with trigger-happy, stereotypical American cops. When a foe is defeated, their demise is depicted with a live-action explosion of a physical model. Very odd, but it works.

Other than the fact Panty & Stocking are actually angels and live on Earth (in a church with Garterbelt, a reverend), we don’t know much about the characters, but I’m sure future episodes will fill in the blanks. The entire sex, gun, and profanity-laced episode, with the exception of a couple brief moments of rest, is almost bursting out of the TV screen. The amount of detail and the speed with which frames flip by warrants multiple viewings. If every episode is like this, I can say confidently that GAINAX has something good here. Totally bonkers, but good. Rating: 4

Aim for the Top 2! / Diebuster – The Movie – Retro Review

How far would you go to achieve your dreams and protect what matters to you? The 2006 GAINAX film Aim for the Top 2! – Diebuster explores this question with an expansive and lightning-paced narrative that makes many leaps in physical scale, like the later GAINAX series Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Nono, the android heroine, begins her long journey by leaving her snowy home by train and getting a job as a waitress in a city, yearning to pilot a buster machine, something only humans of a certain age are able to do.

By the climax of the film, she’s basically transformed into mankind’s last hope against impossibly huge fleets of space monsters and gravity well creatures larger than planets. Enormously epic space battles and elaborate weapons and explosions abound in this film, which a compression of the six-episode OVA that came out way back in 2004. Any detailed character development or plot nuance takes a back seat to the action in this compression, which is the usual gloriously over-caffinated audio-visual spectacle one has come to expect from GAINAX in the wake of their other major works: Evangelion, FLCL, Abenobashi, and Gurren Lagann. In fact, a lot of the charcter design, universe style, and politics of Diebuster are derived from FLCL, which is one of my all-time favorite animes.

Compared to these older works, GAINAX’s colaboration with Feel, Shikabane Hime, simply wasn’t on the same level, and from the look of it, neither will GAINAX’s latest effort out this October, Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt. Watching their older works makes me yearn for another high-quality six-episode OVA like Diebuster or FLCL to sink my teeth into, but such a work still seems a ways off, and at this point, would have to offer something new and innovative. To conclude, I preferred the Diebuster OVA to this film, which seemed too rushed and inconsequential. Film Rating: 3.