Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 07

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The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki? More like the Disappearance of Plot, best demonstrated in the first minute or so of the episode, carried out in silence but for the sounds of Kyon playing Othello with Koizumi, Yuki tapping away on her PSP, and Haruhi writing noisily on the whiteboard. Kudos to the foley artists who provided the sounds that really brought this slice of the lit club’s life…to life.

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As for the plot, it’s not all that important: Haruhi has organized a Hot Springs trip for the club, under the guise of a “training camp”, for which she has forged detailed trip journals legitimizing what will be far more of a freestyle vacation where the only goal is to have fun. Leave it to Haruhi to put so much effort and energy into something that is by design meant to be unproductive.

It also means Opportunity #468 for Yuki-chan to get closer to Kyon and vice-versa, and while I can certainly see some of the situations Asahina imagines Kyon and Yuki getting into, I can safely say the trip will not consist of the two “crossing any lines,” such is the product of Asahina’s overactive imagination.

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Instead, despite not drawing lots to sit right next to each other on the train, the two end up on either side of the aisle, which is almost as good in terms of snack-sharing. It’s a fine example of things maybe not going perfectly according to plan yet still working out just fine. And I’m sure, to Asahina’s relief, Kyon doesn’t try feeding Yuki again.

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The quiet first scene in the club room set the tone for the episode and the club trip in taking its time and enjoying the moment and the journey more than the destination. The character interactions, both as a whole group of seven or in pairs or trios, keep the episode going, as they kill time waiting for their courtesy van by sightseeing and eating…a lot.

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One such welcome pairing is Koizumi with Haruhi, who are always a reliable duo for comedy simply because as far as Koizumi is concerned, Haruhi is never wrong and he’ll never refuse her whims, no matter how unreasonable or odd. The spinoff even makes another callback to its predecessor when Haruhi mentions “power spots” at the temple that can bestow supernatural powers.

But we know by now it’s just teasing and winking, not really seriously suggesting the show will take any supernatural turns…because it won’t. And that’s fine by me, especially if I can still be subjected to silences as long and awkward as Haruhi and Koizumi’s in response to Kyon’s attempt at “vital point” humor.

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Also, it’s good to see that romance and Kyon aren’t the only things on Yuki’s mind—she’s also very enthusiastic about sampling the local food of the region!—She’s also just basking in the glow of her new circle of friends, including Asahina, and this lovely trip they’re on, making fond memories out of soba and smoke.

Lest we forget she was once the only member of the lit club, about to be shut down, but with its infusion of members and semi-members from within and without her school, the club has never been more vibrant. The wish she writes on her matchmaking amulet is directed at the whole group, but we’ll see next week if her attention turns to a more specific subject at the hot spring…and if any of Asahina’s rom-com scenarios come to pass.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 06

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Last week lagged but gave us some nice character beats. This week was breathless but moved the plot forward…and gave us some more nice character beats. Frankly, I was impressed with how much ground this episode covered, though it features the same uneven and at times downright ugly production values that have plagued this show from the start.

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Hey, looks don’t make an anime, they only help. Mikagura keeps me around because of its fun, optimistic outlook and colorful, likable cast of misfits, led by Eruna, the most misfitty of them all, while occupying that rare, slim space between endearing and annoying. Despite everything she does and says, she manages not to come off as trying too hard. And as we see from the turnout at her surprise pep rally, I’m not alone in liking her.

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As the rookie battles proceed apace, Kuzuryu is kind of in a creative rut, looking for inspiration. All the praise, admiration, and accolades he’s received in the past and is sure to receive in the future don’t matter if he himself isn’t satisfied with his own work. Shigura gives Eruna the story of how he and Kuzuryu once attended Mikagura’s sports-focused sister school, but he was punished for his exceptional talent with ostracization.

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Natch, despite the fact she’s in the middle of a tournament, Eruna comes to Kuzuryu’s aid, requesting that he draw her—nude, if necessary. Her visit is brief, but refreshing to the troubled painter, who betrays a smile after seeing her off to go watch Tonkyun avenge Usamaru, making him promise to watch her when it’s her turn to fight.

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Tonkyun does indeed defeat Azumi without too much of a fuss, discerning that her main (and really only) attack has both a time limit and a re-charging time. Azumi had been winning battles by ending them quickly before that time limit is up and hiding out of reach of her opponent when it is. In the end, Azumi wasn’t anything more complicated than a mustache-twirling villain, but it was still satisfying to see her get her just desserts.

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That’s a little disappointing, but the ep makes up for it by having a bonus battle between Eruna and Tonkyun. Tonky’s observed and analyzed Eruna as he did Azumi, and like Azumi Eruna’s tactics aren’t all that complex, so I really didn’t know who was going to win this one, an uncertainty I enjoyed after Azumi’s certain, somewhat boring defeat.

But Eruna has a trick up her sleeve in the form of a gun and bayonet Tonkyun didn’t take into his calculations, so it’s her win. As with Himi and Meika, Tonkyun is gracious in defeat, not only because Eruna is clearly somebody special, but because they had fun fighting with her.

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Kuzuryu (and Seisa, who doesn’t have much to do this week at all) watches Eruna’s match from a monitor, and it inspires him to paint what he observes. Eruna became his muse, which was probably how she intended to help him after she picked up on his creative block.

Unfortunately, Eruna’s run for the rookie championship ends in the round after Tonkyun, as the broadcast club chick did her homework and beat her easily in another off-camera battle. It’s the end of a run, but hey, she did get to promote her “Surround Ichinomiya Eruna With Cute Girls Club”, and she also got Kuzuyru to paint her picture! About that: it’s abstract art, so it looks more like a satellite photo or Civ III  map than Eruna, which disappoints her somewhat.

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As for the cute girls Eruna wants to surround herself with, we get our first glimpse at one of the school’s cutest, Fujishiro Otone. Eruna first lays eyes on her standing over the soundly beaten tournament favorite, Imizu, twirling her hair.

If there’s one thing Eruna loves more than a cute girl, it’s a tough-as-nails cute girl who will put up a challenge. As she herself was to Kuzuryu this week, girls like Seisa, Himi, Meika, Nyamirin, and soon Otone are her muses. They’re why she gets up in the morning, and strives to become stronger every day.

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P.S. This will probably be my last Mikagura review, at least of this length, due to middling ratings low readership.

Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 06

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This week’s Yuki-chan was a bit of a “sampler” with a lot of different loosely-connected stories taking place within the episode. Because Yuki is trying to be bolder, so she speaks up when the opportunity arises to hear the story of Kyon and Mikuru’s “horrendous encounter” from Tsuruya—after Tsuruya launches Mikuru at Kyon, causing a boob-face collision.

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In a classic example of the listener being at the mercy of the narrator’s own biases and motives, Tsuruya recounts a story of Kyon shamelessly setting up a situation in which he bumps into Mikuru and takes her by the hand. In reality, both events were pure accidents, which, is actually why Kyon and Mikuru are able to converse normally: what happened wasn’t that horrendous to them at all.

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The theme of misunderstanding and withheld facts continues in the second segment, in which Kyon, who won’t admit he’s not doing so great with his studies, asks Asakura if she’ll help tutor him. She gives him a high-and-mighty lecture, whereupon he decides to ask someone else, like Nagato.

At the mention of Yuki, Asakura grabs his hand and the two exchange what I’ll call “smiles of understanding.” But because of those smiles and the fact they’re holding hands, Yuki’s skewed, hyperrealistic manga/video game vision presents a much more intimate scene unfolding before her.

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This misunderstanding is cleared up, but when Asakura and Kyon hit the books, Haruhi and Koizumi burst in, with their prep school education that’s a full year ahead of the two. I love the shot of Kyon’s POV when Haruhi sticks her head into the frame. Kyon and Asakura mistake Haruhi’s factual statements as an attempt to mock their “lesser” school and by extension themselves, so Asakura challenges a “math-off”, only to get in over her head and start crying.

Asakura had warned Kyon not to involve Yuki in anything related to schoolwork, but has little choice, and wins the challenge with Yuki’s superior academic prowess. Hey, she lacks confidence…no one said she was a dummy! In another nice nod to the show in which she’s an alien, Yuki is so bad at explaining how she arrives at answers so quickly it sounds like she’s speaking an indecipherable alien language at seemingly superhuman speed.

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The last segment involves both misunderstandings and Yuki being bold. Kyon decides to eat lunch in the clubroom and finds Yuki there tapping away at her video game (which looks like a dating sim). He decides to tease her by snatching the game and making her jump up high to grab it, resulting in the two accidentally embracing. Asakura enters just in time to witness this embrace, and quickly withdraws with her apologies.

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She bursts in again to find Kyon feeding Yuki, and again apologizes and withdraws. Kyon worries she misunderstood everything…but did she? The hug may have been accidental, but both of them held that hug an awful long time…almost as if they enjoyed it. Also, it makes no sense why splitting Kyon’s lunch would be easier if he fed her. That’s just Yuki seeing if Kyon would actually feed her…and he does! Nice moments for this couple; I just wish they wouldn’t always dismiss them as misunderstandings.

The final scene has Haruhi, Koizumi, Tsuruya and Mikuru at the club’s door in preparation for Haruhi’s “Training Camp”, which she’s sure she told Yuki about, just as she told Yuki she got a faculty pass to come to their school for club. In both cases, Yuki forgot being told these things because she was so engrossed in her video games. But approving Haruhi’s requests has increased Kyon’s exposure to Haruhi, making Yuki’s job to woo him that much harder. So Yuki: When Haruhi’s around, put the game down and concentrate!

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 05

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This week, Eruna dicks around at the school festival taking place during the rookie bracket battle, and basically has fun with many of her various classmates through festival activities. It’s predominantly a slice-of-life episode, and so it had a tendency to lag compared to its more exciting previous episodes…even when it’s trying to make a battle out of shooting a life-size Miracle Man figure.

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The fact it’s a festival episode means it’s full of extras, and they’re all colorless, which doesn’t strike me as a stylistic choice so much as a financial one. Through five weeks Mikagura and Re-Kan! are in an unenviable dead heat for worst-looking show on my docket, but at least Re-Kan! looks finished, and is way better with the treatment of light.

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Still, slow and sloppy as this episode was, there was still plenty to like. Even if she’s not in a club yet (and unfortunately came no closer to forming one or even coming up with an idea for one), she’s still pretty popular both among her fellow After School Six first-years and the seasoned senpais. And while her lustful shtick can grow repetitive, there’s never any doubt why all her fellow students like her, because she’s just a super-likable character with uncommon energy and optimism.

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Her interaction with Yuuta, Minatogawa, and Seisa has the result of lifting their spirits, to the point where Seisa is smiling and enjoying Eruna fawning over her in spite of herself.

would have liked to root for Eruna in her next battle, but in one of the episode’s most annoying choices (and possibly one made due to budget constraints), it’s skipped over…completely. She wins and moves on to the third round, but I felt cheated!

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Our consolation fight is between the odd-eyed Usamaru and Azumi Sagara, the first-year ranked second only to Asuhi (Telescope Kid). Because she’s cute and he’s shallow, Usamaru is hoping to hit it off with Azumi in their match, but in an interesting twist, Azumi not only dominates him with her (cheap to animate!) sound-gravity manipulation, but smugly mocks and derides him for deigning to try when he had no chance.

If nothing else, I left this episode wanting someone—hopefully Eruna—to take this haughty, malicious young lady down a couple of pegs in a future round. You can never tell a book from its cute cover.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 05

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Last week was a compelling turning point in the show, when the streak of everything going Nagato Yuki’s way ends with a bang, with that bang being her homemade chocolates hitting the ground. This week, Nagato Yuki disappears, and it’s up to Ryouko to pick up the pieces.

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To her surprise, Haruhi joins the search. Haruhi claims it was just a misunderstanding; that she was giving Kyon courtesy chocolate just like she gave to Koizumi. It isn’t her fault Yuki overreacted, or takes the ritual so seriously.

Ryouko is angry, first at Haruhi, then at herself for blaming others for what she deems her own failure. This is the angriest and most emotional we’ve seen Ryouko yet, and it’s the culmination of putting “Miss Nagato’s” hopes and dreams on her shoulders, while also possibly forcing ideals on the lilac-haired waif.

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When the two finally locate that waif, sulking on a stair, they learn they misunderstood her running away, as did we. Yuki wasn’t devastated by the sight of Haruhi and Kyon, nor is she giving up; she merely felt like she shouldn’t be there while someone else is giving chocolate to someone, because she wouldn’t want anyone watching while she was doing it. Yuki puts herself in the shoes of others, and treats them the way she’d want to be treated. She really is a good girl.

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But will she have the fortitude to hang in a fight with Haruhi for Kyon’s heart? Haruhi makes it clear she “doesn’t dislike” Kyon (i.e. she likes him) when Yuki asks her point blank (and good for her for doing so!) so it’s no longer a one-horse race. But Yuki is game for now, and Haruhi wishes her rival luck.

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Yuki finally, finally delivers the chocolates to Kyon, with trembling hands and a face so red he really should know how much this means to her. He opens them eats them, praises their taste and Yuki and thanks her. He does everything he should do considering what he was presented with, but it isn’t enough. Someone like Kyon needs a clear-as-crystal confession or it’s going to sail over him.

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With nothing else to do but watch from a secluded spot, Ryouko decries the fact it doesn’t seem to be going so smoothly, while Haruhi, nervously playing with her shoe thinks she understands at least part of how Yuki feels, and how giving something to someone, as a courtesy or not, is still an achievement to be proud of.

Haruhi looks particularly weary when Yuki seems to be going in for the confession, but a terribly-timed tackle by Tsuruya causes Yuki to fall to the ground and Kyon to land on her chest, ruining her chance once more. Haruhi seems more than a little relieved by the Tsuruya ex machina.

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While this week did resort to some standard rom-com stall tactics, I appreciated how it kept things tough for Yuki, and more importantly, brought Ryouko’s formerly flawless facilitating powers down to earth. In one of her better lines, told in her temporary rage, Ryouko tells Haruhi “you’re the kind of person who can act to make what you want happen”—referencing Haruhi’s supernatural powers in the original series—compared to Yuki, who has trouble making anything at all happen.

But after this week, Ryouko and Haruhi seem like something resembling friends, their bond forged in large part because of Yuki: Ryouko’s devotion to her, and Haruhi’s competition with her. And I think Haruhi understands Yuki all too well in one notable regard: for both of them, getting Kyon to properly notice their feelings looks to be a Herculean challenge.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 04

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Remember kids, if you don’t smile properly, your mother will pick your perfect little brother who can and run off, leaving you with your dad!

This episode wasn’t just about Eruna developing her powers in preparation for the rookie bracket battle, but about her making friends with the drama club rookies and their leader Akama Yuuto, whom she learns is hiding his true nature from her and everyone else. Oooo…

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First, I wanted to just mention the genius of Eruna having a very pleasant dream about unzipping Seisa’s dress in her bedchamber, but it’s really only the zipper of her sleeping bag in the hallway. Seisa’s maid doesn’t like Eruna, but if Seisa really didn’t want Eruna there, she wouldn’t be there, so I don’t buy for an instant that Eruna doesn’t interest her…nor are we supposed to buy it.

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The “After-School Six” are a colorful bunch that Eruna fits right in with, even if her nickname and persona isn’t an animal (though gorilla is tossed out there). As I said it’s not surprising she’d find and make friends fast at this school; she just has a naturally magnetic personality, even if she can be a tad aggressive with the girls, with three guys in the club there’s a nice balance.

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That personality is something that just comes naturally to Eruna, but it isn’t the same for the seemingly chipper Yuuto, who has to work hard to smile, and feels he must maintain an outer shell of amicability, lest everyone abandon him, as his mother and little brother did. That trauma is brought to the surface because Asuhi reminds him so much of that brother.

This show found a nice dynamic in its character pairings last week with Kyouma cheering up Eruna after her loss to Seisa. This time it’s Seisa, who no doubt shares some of Yuuto’s social awkwardness, who suggests, based on her own experience, to simply forget the things that make him suffer ever happened.

I was even reminded of the iconic Don Draper line: “It will shock you how much it never happened.”

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Without quite knowing what to do, Eruna still waits for an opportunity to be alone with Yuuto. Maybe her plan was really to let him say his piece, since Eruna knew something was amiss, and he knew she knew. He does start, asking why she didn’t simply leave him when she figured out he was “acting”, and Eruna’s response is wonderful: just because she realized that doesn’t mean they’re not friends.

Eruna is fine being friends with whatever Yuuto Yuuto is comfortable presenting to the world, because there’s more to being friends than exchanging smiles and laughs, but helping and supporting each other. When Eruna was down, Yuuto took her into the drama club. Now she’s making clear she’ll stand with him whatever his problems.

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Eruna’s first matchup with Katai Meika in the bracket is also inspired, because it gets back to Eruna’s equal-opportunity policy when it comes to friends. Katai is inspired by Eruna, but also wants to exact revenge for her senpai Himi. And perhaps because this time she’s battling someone more on her level (and both are having a ton of fun dueling), Eruna is able to activate her Toy Gun when she needs it the most. Katai is graceful and gracious in defeat, and will be rooting for Eruna to win it all. So will I!

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 04

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Oh dear…I realize I may have been hasty about choosing Nagato Yuki-san as the Spring’s “feel good” anime. Her inflexible reliance on conventional courtship rituals like Christmas and Valentines left her vulnerable the battle for Kyon’s heart Four weeks in, he has no idea how deeply she feels for him.

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Haruhi arrived on the field of battle late, and even provided moral support for Yuki to advance at a quicker pace, which lessoned the threat she posed. At the same time, her strict non-adherence to societal norms, striking looks, and impish aggressiveness made for a formidable arsenal, with which she’s able to steal a march on Yuki.

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The most heartbreaking part (if you’re a Yuki shipper)? By going home to make chocolate rather than stay at the club to hang with Kyon, Yuki gave Haruhi the only opening she’d need. Mind you, Haruhi doesn’t have anything against Yuki, and she’s not some villainess hell bent on making her life miserable. On the contrary, I doubt she was planning to make the connection she made with Kyon, or vice versa. It was almost as if destiny itself was against Yuki.

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All Haruhi sees is a lonely Kyon waiting for her by the school gate, a potential free coffee, and later, an open ear to her philosophy of “good things will come to those who seek them,” not those who wait. Even when she tests him by asking if he thinks water imps exist, he doesn’t bore her with a scientific explanation for why they don’t. Instead, he ponders whether they do…and who can blame him, with Haruhi fording the February river in her bare feet at sundown; the very picture of impish beauty?

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Yuki means well, but her omission absence, and hesitation are no match for Haruhi. Yet she doesn’t even consider Haruhi to be a threat when she tries and fails to sleep that night, then goes to school with a lump in her throat. Her challenge, as she sees it, is to get that chocolate into Kyon’s hands. As long as she does that, everything will be fine. But putting so much importance into the ritual also means she’ll be that much more devastated if things don’t go as planned.

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Mikiru, Tsuruya and Asahina’s collective “attagirl” encouragement and Asahina’s plan in which she comes to Kyon rather than wait for him, are all designed to make the exchange as painless and idiotproof as possible. But at this point, I’m pretty certain she’s walking into an ambush. There will be no feel-good ending in that room.

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The scene she walks in on couldn’t have been worse if they were in flagrante delicto on the tabletop, because frankly, Yuki’s threshold for romantic defeat is about as low as humanly possible. There’s Kyon, to whom she was about to present the chocolates she put her goddamn heart into, his hand connected via the conduit of a store-bought chocolate bar—”Showa”, a play on Meiji—to Haruhi, the usurper Yuki herself allowed into the club. It’s a regular imperial coup.

The one slight glimmer of hope? The box Yuki drops on the floor doesn’t bust open and scatter the pieces all over the floor, so maybe that’s not quite the state of her heart. But this is going to sting, and her skight step back indicates she intends to retreat.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 03

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On Cloud Nine after her upset victory over Himi, Eruna is already prepared to take over the school and the world with the power she just awakened. She also believes she’s already won the heart of Mikagura Seisa, whom she fantasizes about embracing her like a lover in her trademark delusions.

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Last week we saw a glimpse of Eruna’s potential, but she’s clearly jumping the gun, so this week she gets a sobering, but not devastating, dose of reality. Seisa invites Eruna and Himi to her mansion and her room and even indulges Eruna by praising her and patting her on the head, a gesture Himi mimics, to Eruna’s elation.

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Seisa is right: Eruna really only won because Himi let her guard down and didn’t go in for the kill before her opponent’s power could awaken. If they faced off again, Himi would almost certainly win. Eruna isn’t so sure, and in her hubris, agrees to a practice battle against Seisa herself, but she’ll be kicked out of the “Going-Home Club” (is that really even a club?) if she loses.

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Prior to her battle, Eruna soaks in another practice battle, between Imizu Asuhi (telescope boy) and Akama Yuuto (drama club rep) Unlike Himi with Eruna, the experienced Akama doesn’t waste any time dispatching the rookie with ease. It’s an effective warning to Eruna not to take a peactice battle against a veteran lightly.

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Well, it would be effective, if Eruna weren’t so gosh-darn cocky and sure she’ll be able to take out one of Seisa’s crystals. Just as it covered her first fancy breakfast at the school, the very on-top-of-things newspaper club prints a very timely extra about the Eruna/Seisa clash, complete with bikini shots of Eruna that get her cousin very excited.

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In the battle that followed, Mikagura showed that Eruna isn’t going to pull off a win and get her way every week just because she’s awakened her power. She manages to fly all over the field of battle like lightning, but when she lands a blow on a crystal her hand goes right through it, and her beam fails to manifest. Eruna doesn’t even see Seisa snatch her crystals out of the air and smash them with her bare hands. It’s a total, utter defeat, and Seisa isn’t particularly nice about it, either: “Nice try. Too bad.”

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Thus chastened, kicked out of Seisa’s club, and served generous portions of humble pie, Eruna retreats to a quiet corner of the school to lick her wounds and munch on that pie. She’s joined by Kuzuryu, who offers her milk and a light kick in the bum, but to his surprise, Eruna can’t drink milk and haughtily requests something else form him, preferably in the 300-yen range. It’s a nice senpai/kohai moment that cheers Eruna up and gets her thinking about her next steps.

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With no existing clubs up her alley, Eruna decides to form her own, the nature of which is TBD (Seisa Fan Club doesn’t count, I imagine). But in an act of defiant perseverance, she marches up to the walls of Seisa’s giant mansion, builds a “clubroom” out of cardboard, and prepares to spend the night in it, promising Seisa (who happens to be listening from her window) she’ll keep growing and improving (a rookie battle she might be able to win is coming up), so she can one day face off against her once again.

Seemingly moved by Eruna’s determination and pluck, she meets her out in the rain and lets her move into her mansion, if only the hallway where she’ll be allowed to set up her sleeping bag. Eruna wanted to take big huge leaps to greatness, but smaller steps and more incremental goals are going to be the way to go. It’ll be tough, but no one’s ever going to accuse Eruna of not being tough!

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 03

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By formally introducing the main character of the Haruhi franchise in just the third episode of a spin-off starring a meek bookworm, Nagato Yuki-kun seems to be issuing a challenge—to itself—can Yuki hold her ground when a charm factory like Hirano Aya’s Haruhi crashes her show, or will she disappear, as the title suggests?

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I would imagine most of the audience turned off by all the show’s changes have already checked out (unless they’re hate-watching). Now it’s up to the show to deliver for the cautiously optimistic viewers who stuck around to see where they’re going with this.

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In terms of Yuki being replaced as the protagonist, that isn’t going to happen, nor would I want it to: Haruhi is a supporting character who just happens to steal every scene she’s in with her charisma, and instant chemistry with Kyon. Their half-hostile, half-flirtatious sparring on display here is nothing new for veterans of the franchise. And listening to two true pros at work in Hirano and Sugita is always a pleasure in and of itself.

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As it has every episode thus far, the show doesn’t forget to give Yuki and Kyon a romantic moment or two to keep their romantic potential active. Here, Yuki gives Kyon an extra-formal thank you for helping her this year, and then prays at the shrine for the courage to tell him her feelings—her real feelings, not the word salad she dropped on Haruhi and Kyon in that cafe.

That being said, I loved how her melon soda refilled when she realized she could call Kyon a friend without anyone thinking it’s weird.

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The new year brings with it more Haruhi, and when she infiltrates North High with her transfer student pet Koizumi Itsuki (who doesn’t appear to be an esper) and moves right in, getting Yuki to agree to make them members and make her Executive President. In an odd moment, it seems like Haruhi heard Kyon’s inner monologue. Was that just an easter egg, or a sign things could get more supernatural?

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That’s going to be another big question: assuming Nagato will still have the greater share of screen time as the official protagonist, how much will the people Haruhi has amassed change? Does she have the same godlike power to make her delusions reality she possessed in the original series? Did the show start out like a conventional, non-supernatural rom-com as a feint?

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I’m skeptical of that. I see this Haruhi as no more a god here than Yuki is an alien or Asahina a future-girl. I’m not saying there’s no way they’ll become those things under extended exposure to Haruhi, but I doubt it. The challenge remains, the lit club is now much louder and livelier (the whole cast does a great job creating the aural chaos of such a club), and Yuki must become louder and more aggressive in order not to be left in the dust.

The good news is, Nagato doesn’t need to grow her hair long enough to put it in a ponytail…though if she really wants to, Kyon won’t stop her.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 02

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I’m really digging Mikagura’s reverse-gender shonen story and its boisterous, manic energy. But as rowdy and enthusiastic as Eruna is, she remains homeless and hungry, and joining the Going Home Club only netted her an extra minute in the shower and a tiny portion of natto. She has to start winning battles…but how?

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Eruna decides to visit all the high-ranking clubs seeking advice. Kuzuryuu ignores her, Himi will only help if Eruna buys her dessert (which she can’t afford), Seisa doesn’t even let her in the house, and while Imizu Asuhi is so cute and feminine Eruna could swear he’s a she, she ends up accidentally setting off his telescope gun. The recurring theme of these encounters is clear: this is something she needs to figure out for herself, as they did. If she can’t, she doesn’t deserve to be there.

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With no direction whatsoever, Eruna takes a game Shigure up on his offer to assist her, and while she comes up with cool names for the moves she tries on him, at the end of the day, she’s only hitting him with her bookbag and sleeping bag, then getting pulled back into her dating sim and her beloved 2D GF Yuriko (the timing of this joke is great). The rest is merely her delusions…and she knows that…but she’s not sure what else to do.

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When she crosses paths with Seisa, she delivers a confession of sorts; that the whole reason she came to the school was because she wanted to hang out with a lovely person like the girl in the brochure, and she’s committed to trying her very best to make her proud of her.

The exchange reminds me of what a male character of similar background and personality might say to the girl he likes (if he had he the guts to do so), only Eruna happens to also be a girl (and does have the guts). She’s just a super-likable character I can’t help but wanna root for. I know, that’s the point, but she show hit the mark well.

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But as her battle neared, and Eruna showed no signs of being remotely prepared, I’ll admit I started to feel a little apprehensive. Eruna can imagine whatever positive outcome she likes and delude herself that’s it’s going to happen, but she gets a cold dose of reality when what she considers a pretty clever ambush attempt is foiled easily by the experienced Himi. Himi is also pretty cocky, remarking how she wants to wrap this dawdle up soon so she can go eat some snacks.

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Just when the weight of what defeat would mean begins to slowly descend upon a limping, winded Eruna, she comes across a door covered in seals that release when she touches it. Inside is a room full of light where a slightly more throwback version of herself tells her to awaken her power; the power she had inside all along, but just didn’t know how to tap into. After this encounter, a switch goes off, and suddenly Eruna is dodging Himi’s attack with ease and flying through the school like a bat out of hell.

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As Eruna’s strength, speed, and agility rise exponentially, she’s overcome by a combination of disbelief and excitement, and the animation of the episodes gets bolder and jauntier to keep up with her. With a great beam of light emanating from her index finger, she shatters all three of Himi’s crystals simultaneously, earning her a decisive upset win.

Perhaps her delusions of greatness were really an expression her hidden power trying to emerge. Now they have, and that greatness is no longer just a delusion.

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It’s a win the whole school watched from their smartphones, including Seisa, who certainly looks impressed with what she saw, and all of a sudden Eruna is no longer the over-fantasizing, hapless rookie underdog…but an imposing upstart who’s only just cracked the surface of the potential her bloodline has passed down to her.

Perhaps most important, people will start to stop looking down on her; not just because she can soar high into the sky now, but because she made the same breakthrough all of them made before her. Now she really is one of them.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 02

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Despite the rather disquieting presence of the word “disappearance” (or “vanishing”) in the title, and barring any crazy plot twists, this second episode all but cemented Nagato Yuki-chan’s place as my Official Feel-Good Anime of the season, a position that Koufuku Graffiti occupied this past Winter. Both shows are warm, sweet, and pleasant, if a little lightweight compared to the original series it’s based upon.

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Kyon’s a lucky guy…but we knew this

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Like Ryou in Graffiti, Yuki starts out lonely and depressed, as we see in the flashbacks that break up the Christmas party preparations, which are proceeding apace. Not too long ago, the school threatened to shut the lit club down if Yuki didn’t find more members.

Asakura promises to support her as a friend should, but first Yuki needs to crawl out from under that kotatsu and take action to save the club. In other words, she has to take the lead in taking a stand…and Asakura will follow. She won’t fight her battles for her, but beside her.

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While Yuki is out one night rustling up some grub, a strange girl with yellow ribbons in her long brown hair beckons to Yuki, asking for assistance writing a large rehearsal message for Santa in the park, hoping to “nab” him and “string him up”. This girl’s goal may be unusual and somewhat absurd, but there’s no denying her commitment and dedication to making it happen, going so far as asking a stranger for help…a stranger who forgot her glasses, no less!

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The bizarre encounter inspires Yuki, who is pounding the school pavement the next day, trying to convince strangers to join her club after formally asking Asakura, who gladly joins. She gets turned down by everyone except Kyon. Why does Kyon agree to join? I dunno…maybe he didn’t have anything else going on. Maybe he just thinks Yuki is cute…which she is, especially when working hard for a cause she believes in.

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…And the rest is history…or should I say histurkey? 

I’ll show myself out.

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The party goes off without a hitch. As was the case with Saekano’s Megumi Kato, Yuki is in danger of being edged out by louder (Tsuruya) bolder (Asakura) and bustier (Asahina) personalities, but ends up in the right place at the right time in the end. While she didn’t out-and-out plan to meet Kyon outside (she only wanted to see how the clubroom looked), she realizes it’s the perfect opportunity to confess to Kyon, especially when it starts to yuki. Alas, a Asakura accidentally sabotages the moment, something for which she’s legitimately sorry.

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BAAAAAAAW

 

Fortunately, that isn’t that, as Kyon mistakes a flustered Yuki for a cold one and places his coat on her. This makes him cold, so Yuki switches from words to actions, offering to share the coat with Kyon. The snuggle session that ensues is the totes adorbs highlight of the episode, and another sign that one day at a time, Yuki is drawing closer to world domination living a happy, confident life, achieving what she wants to rather than just worrying about it.

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Which brings us to post-credits. While on their way to the after-party clean-up the next day, Yuki realizes she never got to take that wierdo up on her offer to visit the park to see Santa. That’s when the girl leaps out of the bushes and collapses in the snow. The appearance of Migi Suzumiya Haruhi presents a fresh challenge to Yuki, as she’ll have to work that much harder to defend her position as the protagonist of this show.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 01 (First Impressions)

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My watchlist has suddenly become stuffed with halfway-decent coms, be they rom or not. The latest to grace my LCD is MGK, which delivered a dense, crisp, madcap romp around the suddenly far-more-interesting life of the orange-haired spark plug that is Ichinomiya Eruna, who dominates the episode. This is not a bad thing.

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Just as there are many moods and sides and expressions to the show in which she stars, Eruna is a satisfyingly-realized, complex goofball of a girl who gets lost in her dating sims (in which she dates girls, whom she seems to prefer), and we get lost in them right along with her. She occupies a very interesting character zone: like girly than Sakura Chiyo; less hulking than Onizuka Hime; less…male than Katsuragi Keima (Did I mention I love all those guys?), and yet far more than the sum of her parts.

She’s sorta like a chuuni with her delusions, which are a means of relief from the mundane world in which she live. She’s the dashing heroine in her daydreams, but looks and acts like the dashing heroine in real life too—complete with her cape-like scarf—only that life isn’t taking her seriously. She longs for a place that does…a place where she can spread her wings and have some fun.

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Eruna’s cousin Shigure (who seems to have a one-sided thing for her) manages to pique her interest in Mikagura High where he attends, but because of the fact their uniforms kick ass. And you know what? They DO. Not only that, Eruna decides if Mikagura is the kind of place she can meet gorgeous angels like Mikagura Seisa, the principal’s granddaughter…well, where does she sign up?

Having established that Eruna is not really just shallow, but yearning for a more interesting existence, Mikagura feels like a good fit right off the bat. For one thing, everyone customizes those awesome uniforms just like she does with her yellow scarf. For another, the clubs battle each other with their club skills in exchange for more favorable living conditions, pride, and other perks.

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Mikagura is full of colorful characters who flaunt the dress code. Eruna is beside herself with glee at the sight of all the cuties, who she meets in a kind of gauntlet of cute. To her credit, she manages to express her excitement in different ways each time. She’s truly a girl of a thousand expressions.

When she learns the rough side of the coin—that she’s starting at the bottom of the pile with nothing, she doesn’t despair. So what if right now all she has is a sleeping bag in the drafty hall, side dishes for dinner and navy showers? She has a feeling she’s going to have fun here…and she won’t be on the bottom forever.

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To her delight, she also gets to meet the cover girl herself, Mikagura Seisa, the water to Eruna’s fire if ever there was one. Eruna watches in awe as Seisa calmly douses a minor dispute between Mr. Artiste and some green-haired (literally), green-horned (figuratively) whelp.

When Seisa approaches Eruna, whose enrollment was recommended by the floating cat Bimii (well, that’s what Eruna calls him), things get even better, as Seisa personally invites her to join the illustrious and exclusive “going home” club, on the condition that she sub for her in the next club battle. Eruna is, not surprisingly, SO DAMN OKAY WITH THIS.

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That brings us back to the show’s cold open. The tense atmosphere, dark aesthetic, and scenario of one student fleeing another who corners and appears to waste her with a camera flash initially had me thinking this might be more of a Braverade number, a la Akuma no Riddle. Only when Eruna met her in the end did I learn the girl chased and flashed was Seisa.

Was this a flashback or forward? Was this a taste of some heavier things going down in the future, or just a tease? Considering the bright, playful tone of the episode that followed, I’m inclined to think the latter, but that’s okay. I’m fully on Eruna’s side, and whatever club activity she ends up choosing, watching her stumble, fall, get back up, dust herself off, and kick some ass should be fun.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 01 (First Impressions)

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For many, this new Suzumiya Haruhi property has huge shoes to fill. It picks up in a place where the Disappearance film (one of the longest, but best, anime films ever made, IMO) briefly spent time, namely the alternate universe where Haruhi never assembled the SOS brigade and where Nagato Yuki wasn’t a stoic alien but a shy bookish human girl.

Therefore, technically a spin-off.  This Nagato Yuki doesn’t share much beyond her looks with the Nagato Yuki of the original series(s). This isn’t even a KyoAni production, but rather the work of Satelight. It’s also more of a conventional romantic comedy, nearly devoid of metaphysical, supernatural elements, and the focus will be not on what’s going on with this universe, but what’s going on inside Yuki’s human heart.

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As a moderate-core fan of the Haruhi franchise, I viewed this opening salvo of Yuki-chan not as a safe or cynical dilution of a storied brand, but as another demonstration by that brand’s creators that Haruhi herself and the supernatural trappings weren’t all that endeared us to the series. Placing its solid characters in a less magical setting, while leaving the former main heroine out, gives them a new place to shine, and shine they do!

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That being said, Yuki-chan still has moments of playfulness, with Asakura still exhibiting qualities that could be described, but perhaps she’s really only very athletic and multi-talented. Comparisons to Haruhi’s de facto KyoAni rom-com successor, Chu2Koi, are inevitable, and like that solid franchise, Yuki-chan doesn’t forget to show off now and again, whether it’s a bold punctuating gesture or more subtle, intricate details in the presentation.

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One other advantage Yuki-chan has out of the gate is its built-in lived-in world. Sure, it’s not the exact world we know and love, and in fact, it was specifically portrayed as the wrong world in the film, but the same gang is on hand (save Haruhi) and the same locales as well, with all the differences you’d expect considering the changes to the universe. Asakura is a mom-like protector/mentor figure for Yuki, rather than her hard-headed back-up and rival.

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And in a world without Haruhi, Yuki is free to explore her feelings for Kyon and the best way to express them…and vice-versa. Kyon can sometimes miss the point of things like keeping the lit club going, or the significance of having a Christmas party in said clubroom, but his value to bringing Yuki out of her shell can’t be overstated.

Overall, Kyon comes of as his usual kind, perceptive self, always willingly to call out the quirkiness of his peers (mostly in his head), but also devoted to Yuki and willing to go at her pace, which much like Rikka and Yuuta, isn’t that different from his pace. In this way, after mishaps like Kyon seeing Yuki’s belly, things can be patched up between the two while waiting for the dryer.

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With it firmly established the Lit Club consists only of Yuki, Kyon, and Asakura, the introduction of Asahina and Tsuruya is a little…clunky. The conceit that Tsuruya has the Christmas turkey Yuki is hell-bent on serving for the party, and that she must duel Asahina in various random challenges for said turkey, is a bit random.

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The randomness continues when Asakura and Tsuruya hijack the duel and the episode with an increasingly elaborate, over-the-top antics, which end in stalemate and the two becoming friends. Then again, the fact they shoved Yuki out of the frame so easily speaks to work that lies ahead for Yuki to more strongly assert herself in the show that bears her name, both for Kyon, and for the audience.

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I’m guessing some among that audience are understandably dubious, but I’m not among them. Unless there’s going to be some twist in which this universe suddenly changes, or everyone’s superpowers manifest, it’s probably appropriate to proclaim “Nagato Yuki is dead; Long Live Nagato Yuki-chan.” I’ve definitely room this Spring for a pleasant conventional shy girl rom-com with KyoAni (er, Satelight) flair. Your mileage may vary.

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Stray Obervations:

  • nagatoicI liked that little Iron Chef moment, where Kyon chose to bite the pepper not like the Chairman, but like…Kyon.
  • Let’s just sit back and admire the fact that Asakura managed to get through this entire episode without stabbing Kyon! She deserves a mincemeat croquette.
  • There’s also something very amusing about the way Asakura snatches up Yuki as if she were a ragdoll.
  • I also liked the fact that Yuki wanted snow in the classroom for the party, but Kyon insists she settle for the fact that her name means snow. A technicality, but a good one!
  • She also seems to have a very nuptual aesthetic in mind, what with the five-layer cake and white dress. Perhaps Kyon should just give in and get her a ring for Christmas?