Mekakucity Actors – 03

mek31

After shifting, seemingly randomly, from Shintaro’s story to Momo’s, the show reveals that the events of the past two episodes preceded, then ran concurrently, with those of the first, only from fresh viewpoints. Therefore, the first three episodes comprise thee cohesive story of how the Kisaragi siblings met the Mekakushi-dan.

mek32

I thought this was very clever, and literally and figuratively filled-in the blanks on a first episode that seemed to be a bit too intentionally abstruse at times, while the second episode felt like the first of a series of episodic character portraits. This third episode ties everything together into a satisfying whole that also does a good job formally introducing seven of the nine members in the credits.

mek33

For their parts, the characters we saw hints of in the first episode make a far more lasting impression, and all of them own their roles well: Kido’s quiet angst; Kano’s incorrigible tricksterism; Seto’s affable calmness, and Marry’s clumsy vulnerability. They also all contribute their unique powers (all involving their eyes, which turn red when the powers are active) to the mission to save Momo’s bro.

mek34

Between invisible and super-visible girls, a girl who can stop people with her gaze, a guy who can read minds, and a guy who can make people see illusions, there’s plenty of power to go around. It’s not surprising that once they found each other they decided to form a group dedicated to watching each other’s backs; more family than gang, with a lot of nice interpersonal dynamics.

8_ses

Mekakucity Actors – 02

mek21

Mekakucity fields a large, color-coded cast of characters, and through two episodes has chosen to focus on one character at a time: Shintaro last week, his little sister Momo this week. But while the Shintaro episode didn’t delve too deeply into what made Shintaro tick, I got a far more intimate portrait of Momo’s psyche as the episode flitted between her past and present; her memory and imagination.

mek22

In a couple of comedic scenes that I felt hung around a little too long, we learn that Momo isn’t good at taking tests and really fears being held back. But part of her difficulties could be attributed to her ability to gather huge groups of people who center their attention on her, which is why she was recruited from a young age to become an idol. The particulars of her peculiar “curse” aren’t explained in depth, but the practical and psychological drawbacks are.

mek23

Put simply, Momo suffers from the same issues she did in school: an overabundance attention to her style. Because no one has any interest in the substance of her personality—only style—there are those who question its very existence; a doubt that seeps into her own thoughts. But just as Shintaro utilized his “curse” (Ene) to his advantage, Momo’s happiness, or at least sanity, may lie her ability to accept and embrace hers.

mek24

On the periphery of this episode other characters observe her from afar, suggesting her recruitment by the same organization that snagged her brother. Curses are often blessings as well; Shintaro and Momo are both blessed with potentially very useful skills to an organization aiming to do…er…whatever it is it’s aiming to do. Perhaps we’ll be filled in about that if and when the two siblings are…

7_ses

Samurai Flamenco – 04

sam4

With his crime-fighting skills improving under Joji’s tutelege, Masayoshi decides to patrol a more dangerous district, despite Goto’s warning, and gets beaten up and taken hostage. He’s rescued by “Flamenco Girl”, AKA Maya Mari, who had been preparing for her hero debut when Masayoshi beat her to it. She blackmails him into joining forces, forcing him into a subservient position and using more brutal methods. Goto receives orders from above to look out for the Samurai couple and be prepared to make an arrest should a citizen lodge a complaint. Goto tells them, but they refuse to give up, and Mari tazes him with her wand for which they apologize the next day, while promising to tone things down.

Well now, that was an interesting course of events. In four episodes, Sam-Flam has kept things fresh and moving at a good clip. Here we see Joji’s coaching having a positive effect on Masayoshi’s budding career as a hero, but because Joji’s also a bit of a flake, Masayoshi doesn’t have backup, leading to him getting in over his head, and then rescued by Flamenco Girl in extravagant fashion. Our first thought was of Death Note’s Misa-Misa, another idol who inserted herself into a guy’s life (and didn’t give him a choice in the matter). But Mari isn’t a copycat; she was planning to be a hero all along, and her demeanor is more of annoyance at him beating her to it than admiration. She’s not his admirer; he’s her fly in the ointment.

Where Mari and Misa are alike is in their complete lack of subtlety or discretion. From her giant pink Hummer H2 (we did spot one of those while in Tokyo) and her multi-function wand of punishment, to her repeated kicks to her captives’ junk, Mari is a loose cannon, one who’ll be looking at the wrong side of a jail cell if she keeps up her unsound methods. Fortunately for her (though she may not see it that way), her new partner knows a good cop. Masayoshi plays the submissive sidekick as long as he can, enduring the damage to his hero pride, but when Mari hurts Goto in a misunderstanding, he snaps out of it and reigns her in. If they’re going to do this, they’ll have to do it right.

9_superior
Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Goto realizes Joji likely forgot Masayoshi’s name…again. But Joji’s unexpected “Don’t get cocky!” chest punch was even funnier.
  • While Masayoshi is a hero otaku, Mari’s into magical girls, desiging her persona accordingly.
  • Both Mari and Masayoshi spend only the briefest time at their “day jobs”, which they seem less and less interested in, which doesn’t bode well for Sumi, Mizuki or Moe.
  • Mari blushes when she first sees Goto in uniform. Look out, Goto’s nameless girlfriend!

White Album 2 – 02

wa22

Haruki throws caution to the wind and asks Ogiso to join the light music club. The next day she respectfully declines, but when he visits her at her secret part-time job, he asks again, and she tells him to meet her in an hour. At karaoke, where she sings by herself every week, she agrees to join the club. The next day she meets the third member, Iizuka Takeya, but thinks he’s the pianist. Haruki and Takeya search for the pianist to no avail, until Haruki happens to bump into Touma Kazusa after school. When he hears the piano, he climbs out to the window of the locked music room, and is about to fall when the window opens and Touma herself grabs his hand.

This was an episode full of discoveries. Haruki learns of Setsuna’s secret rooftop singing, part-time job, and karaoke nights, and learns that the girl who sat next to him is the elite pianist who played along to his guitar. He may only be seeking their services to augment his decimated light music club, but the ramifications of seeking out and courting them both with reach beyond club affairs to matters of the heart. We know this because of the helpful, somewhat spoilery prologue. But as is usually the case with these kinds of romances, it’s not about whether or not Haruki enters this triangle; it’s about how that happens: the journey.

He’s inadvertently made a lot of progress with Ogiso already; the more he learns about her, the more she warms up to him. Touma, meanwhile, is a much tougher book to read (when the episode deigns to show us her face) and nut to crack. She seems put out saving Haruki from falling. Someone who values their privacy so much would be hard-pressed to join a music club with “inferior talents” and ultimately fall into a love triangle. Still, Haruki’s only ever been nice to his desk neighbor, and she did play along to his guitar for some reason. Recruiting her will be tricky, but not impossible.

7_very_good
Rating:7 (Very Good)

Toaru Majutsu no Index: Endymion no Kiseki

indexmovie1

On the streets of Academy City, Touma and Index meet Meigo Arisa, a street singer/songwriter with mysterious miracle-like powers. She wins an audition to become the “spokes-idol” for Endymion, a space elevator nearing completion. Touma protects Arisa as she’s pursued by both the church – who believe her to be a saint, and Ladylee Tangleroad, the CEO of the company that built the elevator who has been cursed with eternal life. She sends her employee, the militaristic music-deaf Shutaura Sequenzia to retirev Arisa seeking to use Arisa and the elevator to create a magical device that will end her life – destroying half the world in the process.

When Shutaura learns of Ladylee’s true plans she turns against her. With the help of his many friends, acquaintances, and one-time enemies, Touma and Index launch into orbit to reach the top of the elevator, where Arisa performs before a massive crowd. As the parties on the ground disable Endymion, Index disrupts Ladylee’s spell, while Touma convinces Shutaura not to kill Arisa, punching her in the process. It turns out Arisa was the manifestation of Shutaura’s own wish when she was aboard the doomed space plane piloted by her father. Arisa merges with Shutaura, who regains as Ladylee’s spell is destroyed, ending the crisis. Life returns to normal.

indexmovie2

First things first: woe betide ye who attempt to watch this film as a newbie to the Index/Railgun franchise. Aside from having no idea why a normal guy like Touma keeps shrugging off multiple blows and severe burns to his body, and has a tiny bitey nun for a roommate, all of the dozens of cameos in the film will go right over their heads. We ourselves have a certain soft spot for the franchise, and so were eager to see what they could do with a feature-length film. The results were very ambitious, and we came away from the viewing feeling it succeeded insofar as it adapted the spirit of the show – magic vs. science – and was a most entertaining romp, complete with robot fights, mecha/car chases, and space battles, all taking place in gorgeous settings.

We also dug the idea of dual heroines in Arisa and Shutaura. Looking back there were plenty of clues that they were pretty much the same person split in two: music was Arisa’s life, but Shutaura’s ears couldn’t even discern it; Arisa remembers nothing prior to three years ago; they both possess halves of the same blue bracelet. Arisa’s meteoric rise to fame reminded us of Ranka Lee’s similar arc in Macross Frontier, a series we kept thinking of due to the similar space opera-y milieu the film adopts in the second half. The film looked and sounded great, we had a lot of fun watching it. Had it run in a theater near us, we would have definitely felt we got our money’s worth.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Valvrave the Liberator – 06

val6

Ignoring Haruto’s warnings, Rukino Saki enters the cockpit of a green Valvrave and contracts with it, becoming a “vampire” and its new master. She bites Haruto and inhabits his body briefly and commits some mischief, making it appear that they’re a couple in order to align herself with his celebrity. When the Dorssians launch an attack and destroy the module’s ARUS escort, Rukino sets out to fight, but when the battle gets tough she wavers. Shouko, Takahi, and her classmates cheer her on, and she destroys X-ein’s ship. The Dorssians retreat, but Cain leaves A-drei behind to infiltrate the JOIR module and face L-elf.

Typically, in order to make a meaningful connection with a character or characters, we need to spend a little time with them; learn a little about who they are, where they come from, and what makes them tick. But we don’t know much of anything about Rukino Saki as we’re thrust into her own little personal drama. She’s a former idol, and she’s as insecure as she is selfish. She seems to take joy in messing with Haruto and using him for her own purposes. So if she’s such a bitch, why should we care about her? Because she’s cute? All the girls on this show are cute. Because we see some flashes of the unpleasantness she suffered during her idol career? Well, maybe.

The thing is, like Haruto, Shouko, and L-elf, the show itself doesn’t seem to care about Rukino Saki any more than we do…not yet, at least. That’s not exactly unforgivable, as a lot of shit has gone down in these peoples’ lives. It just means this series is more concerned with action and zany, over-the-top situations than it is fleshing out anyone at this point. The thing is, last week’s outing wasn’t particularly entertaining and its flaws outshone the insanity. This week did a far more respectable job holding our interest, but if our emotional investment in the cast remains negligible, we’re going to have a hard time sticking with this show simply for the spectacle. We like characters, particularly ones that make a lick of sense.


Rating: 5 (Average)

Stray Obsevations:

  • Some, er, choice quotes from this week: “This is amazing! I feel like a bird! Wait, I’m a vampire now…so that makes me a bat!” “Rukino, you’re overextending!” “Who cares? We’re invincible super-humans!” “L-elf! For the sake of our friendship, please die.”
  • Did Figaro really just get snuffed out? Meh…whatever.
  • This series is so far akin to a Gundam series on drugs, so it make sense that the trope of enemies retreating early and often would show itself here.
  • In case you forgot this show is nuts: Nanami the ditzy trainee teacher is made the representative of New JIOR. Long may she reign.
  • L-elf literally just stands around doing nothing…again. With A-drei near, next week he’ll probably do…something. Maybe.

Natsuiro Kiseki – 07

The girls prepare for a idol singing competition coinciding with the town’s Taikoboshi festival. Natsumi, who wants to win, is annoyed that Yuka is not taking it seriously; moreso when Yuka suggests they just wish for the win, which would be cheating. When a suden rainstorm threatens to cancel the competition, Rinko’s mom tells her and Yuka to make Teru Teru Bouzus, which end up working, precluding the need for Saki and an uncertain Natsumi to wish on the rock. They perform and win the competition, which Yuka vows is just the beginning of their rise to idoldom.

This was a very feel-good, moving episode that didn’t rely on the happenstances that result from rock wishes, but was fueled purely by the quartet of girls as they practice for what may be their last singing contest as a group, with Saki leaving. All summer we’ve known she’s been leaving, but there are episodes where it casts a pall on everybody else and episodes where it’s not a factor and everyone enjoys life in the moment. We got the latter here, and another instance of the group splitting into twosomes: Natsumi/Saki and Yuka/Rinko, then playing off one another.

Natsumi and Saki are the “grown-ups” of the group; even if they’ve had their immature days, they strike us as more mature than the wide-eyed Yuka and the bashful Rinko. But Yuka proves she’s the most childlike of them all, being the primary propeller of the idol dream she wants to come true for everyone. She goofs off for most of the episode, only watching the concert videos and refusing to practice, but when it’s showtime, she hunkers down and her performance is just as good as everyone else’s. Just as one shouldn’t underestimate Yuka’s ability to perform seriously on the fly, one can’t rule out the possibility of her idol dreams coming true someday.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Sket Dance – 56

Switch attends every Momoka concert he can, but never tells her. She spots him while she’s leaving a venue after a show, and pays the Sket-dan a visit on a day off hoping to see him, but he’s gone to Akiba to buy parts for his broken PC. While returning home, he’s bumped by a passerby and his laptop also breaks. Reduced to body language and writing out what he wants to say, he promises Yuuki he’ll get her Momoka’s autograph. Momoka lets him backstage, where he takes down a rabid fan. Momoka tells him she knows he’s been to many shows, but he ‘says’ nothing more than he’s a fan. He gets her autograph, and in exchange, she gets his sketchbook.

It’s been some time since Switch had an episode dedicated pretty much just to him, or in this case, him and Momoka. They’ve always been friends, but for whatever reason his frequenting Momoka’s shows has left her wondering if there’s anything more they could be. And in true Switch fashion, there isn’t. It would seem he’s not interested in a girlfriend – only an admiree in Momoka, or a rival in Yuuki. Romance just isn’t for him, it seems. Either that, or perhaps the same reason he won’t talk is the same reason he will never fully open up to anyone – because he blames himself for his bro’s untimely death.

Regardless, Switch and Momoka’s relationship is nice and nuanced: a mutual respect and concern for one another, bourne out of all of their past dealings, and his helping her out, not just as a member of the Sket-dan, but as a friend. It’s a credit to the show that characters can pop in and out of the Sket trio’s lives and have normal, natural encounters, not just ridiculous comic escapades (though those are often good too). And that’s not to say this episode had no comedy; Switch milked his pad-writing for all it was worth, including telling off a stalker and (perhaps unintentionally) making Momoka believe he was writing her a confession.


Rating: 3.5

 

Persona 4: The Animation – 09

Idol Kujikawa Rise, AKA Risette, is sick of her micromanaged, puppet-like life, and decides to quit and move to Inaba where her family runs a tofu shop. Her press conference appears on local TV, making her the next potential victim of the killer. Yu, Kosuke, Chie, Yukiko and Kanji both warn and keep an eye on her. In the course of their surveillance, they catch a real stalker who most likely isn’t the killer. But when Rise appears a second time on the Midnight Channel in her shadow persona, she is kidnapped.

Well, now, this should be interesting. Nobody who has accepted their shadow and gained a persona thus far has been a celebrity of the caliber of Kujikawa Rise – indeed, Yu Narukami is just about the blandest, least-flashy individual imaginable – meaning Rise not only has her shadow like everyone else, but that shadow exists in the real world as the fictional idol “Risette.” Worse still, she is the one everyone in the country knows and adores with all their heart. Not the real Rise.

Yu turns out to be the perfect guy to stand by Rise while the rest of the gang deals with the stalker: he met her before (in a hilarious scene where she first perceives him as a threatening stalker) but always lets her have the first and last say and move, to put her at ease. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Yu liked this chick, despite already being quite friendly with Miss Amagi (who again showed her weirder side this week). So yeah, this Rise has basically just released herself from her shadow’s real-life grip; only to be kidnapped and sent into the shadow world where she’ll presumably reconcile with it.


Rating: 3.5

Guilty Crown – 01

Shu is an introverted student who makes films, and suddenly gets caught up in the war between “terrorist” groups and the government, in a post-semiapocalyptic Tokyo recovering from a viral war. He happens upon Inori, an idol who is also a member of the resistance led by Gai and on the run. He misses his first chance to save her, but doesn’t waste his second, making a pact with her to take the guilty crown and fight beside her.

Sweet Cambridge, this is the fourth series debut that we’ve had no choice but to score a four. Who knows if the season can keep up this momentum, but if it can it will go down as one of the best we’ve had the pleasure to watch. This Guilty Crown will be a big part of it, and its sleek, sexy debut is just about as close to perfection as you can get. Not a moment was wasted and no detail left out. It kicked ass on pretty much all levels.

From its quiet, beautiful opening that layered Inori’s music video with her guerilla activities, to the shounenesque climax and payoff. it exhibited perhaps the best animation, art direction, and character design of the season so far, and had a rich, involving soundtrack to match all the eye candy. Shu is well thought-out too, he’s a wimp, but his growth of cajones is rapid and believable. He’s just stepped into a new and very dangerous world, but he seems well-equipped to deal with it. The next episode can’t come soon enough.


Rating: 4