SSSS.Gridman – 05 – Wear Some Damn Clothes!

SSSS.Gridman 05 is a swimsuit episode, but only peripherally. It doesn’t matter how skimpy the outfit or how piercing the male gaze, this was also an excellent episode; the best since the first, because of how it shook up established formula of previous episodes.

It did so with a savvy understanding of the universe it’s built so far and how those who live within it should feel and act. The fanservice, while abundant, never distracted from that.

Shinjou Akane is regarded not just as the idol of the class, but its goddess. So its ironic that we see her resplendently reclining…on a giant pile of bags full garbage she’s too lazy to take out. Her class is going on a rafting field trip, and the only way she sees it not being a complete hassle/waste of time is if she can manage to finally beat her nemesis Gridman.

Just as Akane is looking forward to confirming that Gridman is Yuuta and then mopping the floor with him, Yuuta is looking forward to sharing an activity with Rikka, to whom he has yet to confess his feelings. That hesitation leads to a distance between them; there’s little screen time with just the two of them.

Heck, in the first half of the episode, Akane spends more time with Rikka, even getting her to rub sunblock on her back (and jokingly asking if she’ll do her front too). Shou is embarrassed when  Rikka’s cool friends mock his paunch, but when Akane does it, he turns beet red, only seeing the surface of Akane and not the evil lurking just beneath it.

Akane also ends up spending a good amount of time one-on-one with Yuuta, remarking how they’re alike in “not being used to things like this”, this being the rafting trip and all the physical and social calisthenics involved. But again, Akane is trying to get Yuuta to admit he’s Gridman, and in a way, succeeds when, in the middle of a string of questions, she asks if he’s “transforming” and he answers in the affirmative.

One day, Yuuta, Rikka, or Shou (or heck, maybe even Hass) will confront Akane about who she truly is…but not this week. Akane’s weird question sticks in Yuuta’s head, but he has more pressing issues, like the absolutely humongous Leviathan Akane has Alexis conjure shortly after getting her confirmation.

Akane admits it might not be fair or sporting to scale up her kaiju so dramatically, but considering the losing streak she’s endured I can totally understand her desire to take the proverbial gloves off. Unlike previous conjurings, not only is this one bigger than ever, it’s in a non-urban area, and indeed is created from the lush natural landscape; a mobile mountain with jaws and two beady red eyes. Honestly…it’s kinda cute.

We’re also in uncharted territory with the Gridman Alliance nowhere near the kitbashed computer terminal that enables Yuuta to transform. They can call the shop in hopes Neon Genesis folk are there (and they are; just waiting around), but they left their cell phones in the lockers.

Yuuta and Shou run ahead (leaving Rikka to escape with the others), but while Shou has change when they find a payphone, neither knows the number to the junk store. But Rikka does, and in catching up to provide it, she demonstrates that she won’t easily break the bonds of the alliance by leaving her comrades behind so easily.

The cavalry gets the message, buys the computer from Rikka’s mom, boards the same train as Yuuta and Shou, fall asleep on that train and almost miss their stop, and set up the computer at the station where they plan to rendezvous with Yuuta.

While he takes a tumble down a hill and gets a bit scratched up, he manages to make it, and he and Borr transform into Gridmand and Buster Borr, respectively. At first glance they look comically outmatched against an opponent of such lopsided superiority in mass. The only advantage they seem to have is that the kaiju’s attacks are very slow and inaccurate.

As if they didn’t have enough to deal with, Item shows up, determined as always to fight and defeat Gridman, regardless of what Akane wants or doesn’t want. However his time on the stage as an effective combatant is brief, as Borr has a projectile for every need, from forest fire-extinguishing water missiles to super-adhesive projectiles that immobilize Item’s kaiju.

That gives Gridman and Borr time to combine and unleash a vicious barrage of weaponry at the giant kaiju, culminating in a Double Buster Grid Beam that finishes it off. From closeups to extra wide shots of exploding giant monsters, SSSS.Gridman continues to make a strong case for best-looking, most visually-imaginative anime of the season, if not the year.

Akane, once again defeated, nonchalantly slips onto the last train back home, while Yuuta, Rikka and Shou reunite and celebrate the victory. However, Rikka spots Item, and some strangely floating rocks suggest they may be celebrating prematurely.

Still, it’s good to know that whether they’re in skimpy swimsuits or not, the Gridman Alliance is strong…and that Hass doesn’t have some weird perpetual cold, but only wears her mask for show. I love little details like that (or Borr saying the words I reused in this article’s title when she spots Yuuta in nothing but swim trunks). SSSS.G is full of them.

As for Yuuta getting Rikka to notice him, well…perhaps he should see her repeated instances of catching up to be by his side—be it for practical or emotional support—as a positive sign that she might be receptive to his feelings…if only he managed to successfully tell him what they were…

SSSS.Gridman – 04 – Truly Vexing to Watch

Akane is pretty sure Yuuta is Girdman, but not 100% sure. She wants to investigate further, which includes questioning Rikka when the two take the bus to school on a scorcher of a day. The two also end up joining Rikka’s friends Namiko and Hass on a group date with the Youtube group of college boys called Arcadia, despite the fact neither Rikka nor Akane are really into group dating…or any dating at all.

Yuuta doesn’t really like the idea of Rikka going on any kind of date that doesn’t involve him, and Gridman can sense he’s troubled about it (though Yuuta tells him not to worry about it). Yuuta and Shou decide to basically shadow the group date, as it involves two women they’re both emotionally invested in (in Shou’s case, Akane; in Yuuta’s case Rikka).

Neither really ever had anything to worry about; the only two women remotely  interested in Arcadia are Namiko and Hass. Akane is far more interested in learning why Rikka is spending more time with the guy she suspects to be aligned with her arch-enemy Gridman.

Akane also ditches the other girls at her earliest convenience, and succeeds in killing all but one of them with a kaiju. Rikka later catches on to the fact three of the four members of the group were killed and erased from the collective memory of society (including her friends), so she meets with the last surviving member, Yamato, to warn him of his impending doom.

She’s almost too late, as the fog that serves as the precursor to the latest kaiju attack envelops Yamato. It’s Samurai Calibur who ends up saving them both from the kaiju. Yuuta and Gridman deploy, but they end up having to fight not only the insectoid kaiju that killed the other members of Arcadia, but Item as well, who is singularly interested in defeating Gridman and nothing else.

All four members of Neon Genesis decide to sortie at once, but when combined with Gridman’s deployment, the computer they’re all working through basically freezes, freezing all of them in turn. Rikka scares the shit out of Shou by unplugging the computer, then plugging it back in and rebooting it, but doing so actually solves the problem, as the whole of Neon Genesis simply isn’t able to sortie simultaneously.

Instead, only one of them, the tank from last week, sorties, combining with Gridman into Gridman Max, defeating the insectoid kaiju. Item then reaches his time limit and reverts to his human state. It’s another victory, albeit a close one.

Later, at the shop, Yuuta works up the courage to ask Rikka out to grab something to eat, but she misinterprets it as a suggestion for the whole group to have a meal together. Mind you, Yuuta could mend the misunderstanding with two words: “just us,” but of course he doesn’t, mimicking Wile E. Coyote in the “trying something only once” strategy.

This was an episode in which the large-scale battles between Gridman and kaiju took a backseat to the high school romantic drama unfolding between Yuuta, Rikka, and Akane. Yuuta has proved pretty inept at getting Rikka to notice him in the way he’d prefer, but he should have plenty more opportunities, especially since she doesn’t have the slightest interest in Arcadia’s Yamato.

Watashi ga Motete Dousunda – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: Serinuma Kae, a plus-sized fujoshi second-year high schooler, loves to pair off hot guys in her head. When her favorite anime character dies, she inadvertently loses a bunch of weight, becoming a stunning beauty who garners the persistent attention of four guys at her school. On a group date she tries intently to hide her “flaws”, but in the end they accept her for the otaku she is; as long as she’s happy, they’re happy.

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Why You Should Watch: While the Ugly Duckling trope is as old as time, WgMD (AKA Kiss Him, Not Me) freshens things up by making said duckling a closet otaku, then building a reverse harem around her, so quickly it makes her head spin.

And yet, as her friend Akane points out, Kae has always had a way with hot guys, even before she lose the weight, because while she can be privately creepy, she’s always been kind. She wants only what’s best for the guys, which she thinks is…each other.

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I enjoyed how peripheral the guys were; this is Kae’s show, and they’re in the dark for most of her inner conflicts and conversations with herself. Akane is a solid friend who suddenly finds herself no longer “the hot one” among them (though she already has a boyfriend, so it’s no biggie).

It’s also interesting to see how all four react to Kae compared to how they treated her when she was bigger. In particular, her senpai Mutsumi is the first to immediately recognize her post-transformation. He’d always been more attuned to Kae’s inner beauty and kindness.

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Why You Shouldn’t Watch: Stepping back a bit, Kae’s transformation strains credulity, and there don’t seem to be any consequences to, ya know, starving herself. While pre-weight loss Kae is treated relatively well by her peers there’s still the feeling she’s regarded by most as a lovable mascot-like figure. And while society is more or less works this way, it doesn’t exactly look great that these four guys only pursue Kae when she becomes slim and hot.

Those problems aside, this show could definitely just get repetitive, with Kae going through the romantic motions with guy after guy. We’ll see if she can have her otaku otome cake and eat it too. We’ll also see what will happen if (when?) she gains her weight back; after all, Shion can only die once (unless the show brings him back and kills him off again).

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Zane’s Verdict: WgMD takes what could have been a mess of trite gimmicks and executes a solid rom-com that’s more than the sum of its parts. Kobayashi Yuu excels at giving Kae a wide range of voices to suit her emotional state, and the guys differ enough in personality to provide some interesting dynamics down the road. It’s far from perfect, but it’s more than watchable, and for now I’m interested to see how things play out for Kae & Co.

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Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai – 07

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This episode of DnH toyed with my expectations, almost as if it was aware of the fact it’s an underdog on my list (ranked fifth out of my seven shows) and needed to show me something to remind me why I’m watching. Last week it successfully maneuvered a substantial overarching plot and presaged future difficulties and conflicts.

This week initially seemed to change gears completely, starting with the four girls of the library club assembled at the table, each giving their argument for why they’re Kakei’s type. Everyone’s cordial — even clinical — but one can definitely sense conviction for their respective positions in all their voices and expressions.

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When Kakei himself pops into the clubroom, Tsugumi abruptly asks him to go on a date…with all of them. At this point I’m pleasantly bemused — is the show going to be this ridiculous with the harem scenario? — but Kakei doesn’t take Tsugumi seriously, as he reads all night and sleeps in, making him late for the date and giving the girls an excuse to invade his flat, where they each act according to the archetypes they defended in the club meeting.

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Nagi barges in unannounced, further angering the girls (who already suspect something is going on, which they’d be right about, but it’s not quite what they think!) and decides to tag along as a sixth wheel, and the 6×6 Gelandewagen of Love rolls off to the mall. At this point, I was tipping my hat to DnH for apparently making an honest attempt to make this harem thing work; a seeming fool’s errand. I should have been tipped off by the looks the girls had as they walked in formation.

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Also bemusing to the point of suspicion: how civil everyone is throughout this date. While ostensibly competitors for Kakei’s attention and affection, the four girls eschew sniping and instead encourage and assist one another in turn, sticking to their archetypes and carrying them out to their natural conclusions.

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As one girl is engaged with Kakei (they each get a scene of alone time with him), the others analyze their chemistry, first with Tamamo, then Senri, then Kana. As they cycle through these interactions, and interesting thing happened: I the viewer began thinking about the type I go for. Rather than resent or envy Kakei, I became Kakei. And part of what makes a successful harem is being able to see yourself in the guy’s shoes…not having a target on the guy’s back.

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The sequences of mini-dates-within-the-date, also showed me that it’s not really as simple as what type to choose. Sure, I’ve somewhat gravitated towards him and Senri (among the four club girls), but the fact is all four exhibit desirable qualities, to the point that the date is essentially one long pleasant stalemate.

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Oh yeah, the date also bent time, becaue I was sure the episode was four-fifths over when Nagi took Kakei aside to tell him they had Shepherd’s work to do. Instead, that was the halfway point. Not that the date of the first half felt long, but it did feel like it was building towards completion. Little did I know the show had far more in store for us!

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But first of all, the Shepherd mission: having to stop a creepy guy from getting a good look at Tsugumi so he won’t develop a wildly popular love doll in her image is a hilariously awesome job. Better still is the fact that Kakei has to suddenly embrace Tsugumi like a lover to do so — knowing full well it could throw off the Utopian balance of the group date. But he doesn’t want Tsugumi to have to live her life being famous for being the ‘love doll girl’ and so does what he must.

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He’s able to explain away his behavior as an ‘experiment’ he and Nagi were performing to test the girls’ reactions. This in tern gives the girls leave to come clean: the group date was a means of researching and considering their response to a question submitted to the club asking what kind of girl Kakei likes.

Therefore the group date works on two levels: one, as a straightforward if slightly empirical harem date, and as a legitimate social experiment and service…that just happened to also satisfy the girls’ own curiosity regarding Kakei’s preferences, as well as their own latent desire to experience dating him firsthand, rather than just in their heads.

But wait, there’s yet another level to come out of this group date, because Who submitted that request in the first place?

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The answer, of course, is Nagi. The request wasn’t merely a prank (though it was partly that) but a carefully-designed gambit in the fight for the open Shepherd position. Kakei would be the first to admit he’s uncertain about becoming a Shepherd, and Nagi wants to maneuver him out of the running altogether.

Witnessing the girls blanking about the Shepherd research is very disquieting for Kakei, and Nagi warns him that if he were to become one his “book” would be erased; everyone would forget he ever existed. Dates like the one he just experienced would be impossible, as would remaining friends with any of the club girls…or anyone, for that matter.

Such is the price of the power to change peoples’ fates a Shepherd gains. It’s not really an unfair price, but having gone from detached loner to a treasurer of friends since joining the Happy Project, it is a steep price for Kakei. Nagi drove that point home by arranging the date.

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Kakei’s never been more unsure of what to do after the weight of that price comes down on him, but Nagi’s plan doesn’t go as smoothly as she’d like, because he doesn’t drop out right then and there. Instead, he asks her if she’s okay paying the price. When she says she is, he laments that he’d forget her, causing her to drop her armor of resolve and steal a kiss she’s wanted so badly for so long.

At this point I imagine the Shepherd remembers their past life even if no one remembers them, and in that regard, this kiss is particularly tragic and poignant, because Kakei won’t remember it or anything about Kodachi Nagi if she’s successful. As she skulks away, she insists she’s “given up everything already”, but it sure seems like she’s trying to convince herself of that rather than it being a done deal.

The two people who seem most suitable for each other are the two contemplating erasing themselves from each others’ lives, which is both tragic and compelling. At this point an unhappy ending for both seems certain. Will that turn around, and if so, how? You have my full attention, DnH.

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Kimi no Iru Machi – 08

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A year and a half after moving to Tokyo, Haruto is now in university and dating Asuka. He decides to get a job at the Lawson Market to pay for a beach trip with her. He bumps into Eba Rin at the market. Haruto’s friend begs him to attend a group date, and he gets permission from Asuka. On the date he encounters Yuzuki, who is still single. While Asuka is at the market with Haruto, Rin shows up again, and mentions Haruto seeing Yuzuki, making Asuka jealous. When Rin appears again after his shift is over, he walks her home, but she voices her concern that he’s “settled” for Asuka, when Yuzuki or even she herself could make him happier. Haruto accepts the challenge.

After Kyousuke died, Haruto abandoned his quest to win Yuzuki back. Dating your dead friend’s girlfriend – or vice versa – was always going to be difficult, and Yuzuki definitely didn’t seem interested in pursuing anything. So what did Kyousuke do? What we told him to do ever since he met Asuka: date her. And by all accounts, it seems to be going splendidly! They make a cute, logical, domestic couple. They make sense. He cooks for her, she steals kisses from him, they make long-term plans together (which will probably never materialize, knowing this show), and when they end up on the floor they seem to have every intention of capitalizing on the situation…at least until the phone rings. You gotta answer the phone in that situation, right? (Sarcasm.)

And then Rin has to show up and ruin everything. Yuzuki shows up first, but that’s just soap opera coincidence; Rin straight-up stalks Haruto for the entire episode, loitering around his workplace and waiting for his shifts to end. Haruto may think she’s “grown up” but her behavior this week suggests she’s the same selfish, spiteful, conniving brat who tortured her half-sister for years. As much as we hate her, she has a point: Haruto didn’t uproot his life and move to Tokyo for Asuka. But there’s nothing really wrong with Asuka. Rin just wants to set something on fire just to watch it burn, and Haruto’s dumb enough to take the bait. For all of her complaining about Haruto “settling”, she sure settled for a easy mark.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

The Tulips:

The camera keeps going baack to a bouquet of four tulips throughout the episode: we decided to attach meaning to them, even if that wasn’t the intention (though if it wasn’t, why would they feature them so prominently?)

The yellow one represents the cheerful, cute Asuka; the purple one represents the purple-haired Yuzuki, and the Red one represents the red-haired Rin. The white one is Haruto. Their order changes throughout the episode.

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When we first see the tulips in Asuka’s arms, the yellow and white are together, like her and Haruto…

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…Then she places them on the balcony, and the yellow is obscured by the red and purple, foreshadowing what will happen in the episode.

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When Haruto decides to get a job so he can take Asuka to the beach, a white petal flies past her face, but then off the balcony and into the sky.

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When Haruto and Asuka are interrupted by a call about the group date,  the yellow is now in the front with the white beside it, but the wind makes the red one peek out from behind…

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…And when Haruto returns from the group date, it’s the same deal.

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After she learns about Yuzuki, Asuka separates the purple flower and admires it…but the red is now in the front, between the yellow and white, foreshadowing Rin coming between Haruto and Asuka.

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In the last shot, a drop of water falls from a drooping but opening red (or purple) tulip.