Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 11

Since the new school term it seems like our lovebirds have been in a holding pattern, and the blame for that rests entirely on Nishikata, who continues to misinterpret pretty much everything Takagi says and does, and remains stubbornly obsessed with getting one over on her, despite the fact Wile E Coyote had more success chasing Road Runner.

When Takagi approaches a cat so easily, Nishikata is too proud to say he likes cats too, even though Takagi is already keenly aware of that fact, since Nishikata is such an open book. She rarely takes what he says at face value without challenging it in some way. Nishikata often accurately predicts Takagi’s behavior or responses, but where Takagi flaunts her ability to read his mind, he’s always second-guessing what he thinks is in hers…and almost always pays for it.

In art class, we find Nishikata and Takagi drawing portraits of one another, and right from the start I’m wondering: did they choose to draw each other, or were they assigned? Regardless, Nishikata tries to be funny by drawing how he “envisions” Takagi—like a monster—but she draws him exactly as he is, perpetually blushing around her with eyes to the side. The class likely can’t help but feel the chemistry.

The next day Takagi has her fortune told by a classmate handy with Tarot. After losing a game of rock-paper-scissors, meaning she has to help Nishikata clean, she tells him what it was about: she’ll do well with her crush. She even gets Nishikata’s fortune: he’ll do well with his crush too.

There were moments in this segment when I thought for sure Nishikata would let something slip, but instead, he has a revelation: circumstances definitely point towards Takagi liking him; she did lose the game on purpose, after all.

Further, Nishikata correctly analyzes his reactions to this kind of talk with the assertion that he likes Takagi. He quickly dismisses the thought in his head, but the seed has been planted.

The day after that, Nishikata has a very favorable horoscope, essentially invincible for the day, which for him means he’ll finally strike a blow against Takagi. Takagi, naturally, knows he’s both a Cancer and correctly predicted he’s Type O, and so knows he has an invincible aura.

Yet…nothing happens out of the ordinary. Nishikata is teased his usual several dozen times, and laments the 150 push-ups he’ll have to do when he gets home. Yet it’s only after he agrees without a thought to walk home with Takagi that he realizes he still has a chance to deal a “critical hit.”

While walking home, Nishikata and Takagi run into Nishikata’s friends, who invite him to their house to play a video game. We then cut to Nishikata still with Takagi. He refused the invite, and when Takagi asks if he’s okay not going with the boys, he says yes…because “I wanted to walk home with you anyway.”

Those words cause Takagi to gasp and stop dead in her tracks, but Nishikata is too busy straining to think how he can deal a blow to Takagi to realize he just dealt her one. That is, until he considers what he just said to be “super awkward” and runs off in embarrassment, believing he only managed to scored a hit on himself.

But he’s sorely mistaken. His hit on Takagi was indeed critical, and it went straight to her heart, something she says is “terrifying” before getting on her bike and riding the rest of the way home blushing just as brightly as Nishikata usually does, with an bashful smirk on her face.

It’s one of the best moments from one of the best characters I’ve come across this season. Raw, honest, and true to her personality. Can Nishikata get over the embarrassment and continue telling Takagi the things she wants to hear, or does she have to be content with him letting things slip then halfheartedly taking them back? We’ll see what next week’s finale has in store.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Houkago no Pleiades – 02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Houkago no Pleiades – 01 (First Impressions)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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