Cardcaptor Sakura – 31 – Sakurazilla, Queen of the Kaiju

Touya does it almost every morning: Calling Sakura a kaiju for stomping down the steps and being too loud. One day, Sakura vows to grow tall enough to “stomp” her mean big brother. Little does she know that half of that wish will come true in the service of her Cardcaptor duties.

What’s odd is that despite her friend Naoko finding a book that is clearly a Clow Card (though not a Clear Card) at a used bookstore, Sakura senses the presence of a card elsewhere entirely.

When Sakura comes by later that night when there’s no one around, Tomoyo is with her, and dresses her up in a bold blue battle costume and has her camcorder at the ready to record some cardcapturin’. But they’re not alone: Syaoran and Meiling are also on the scene, and determined to get to the card first.

Unfortunately for Syaoran, cats love him, and when Sakura and Tomoyo manage to Fly to safety after a gigantic cat chases the four of them, he ends up the cat’s focus of attention. Kero-chan determines from the big cat that the Big card is on the loose. Sakura confronts Big, who doesn’t really put up a fight when Sakura moves to seal her.

That would be all, except that Naoko unknowingly has a second Clow Card in her possession in the form of a fantasy book that has blank pages at the end which are meant to be filled in by the owner. Naoko obliges, and the things she imagines and writes down take physical form, from flying animals that wouldn’t normally fly to a 10-story purple dragon. Kero identifies it as the Create card at work.

Faced with the prospect of a literal kaiju wreaking havoc on Tomoeda, Sakura has no choice but to use Big…on herself! Growing to immense size ironically makes her even more adorable, especially as she tries to cower in embarrassment. Even with her greater stature, the dragon is still bigger and stronger and unlike Big puts up quite a fight.

Thankfully Sakura (and, incidentally, the city) is saved when Naoko decides to put the quill down, close her book, and go to bed. Just like that, the dragon evaporates, and Sakura seals Create, and returns to normal size. But the next morning, when Touya teases her about being a kaiju once more, she takes comfort in the knowledge that she could grow to the size of a real kaiju and intimidate her brother anytime…if she wanted to!

So ends another high-concept—very high-concept!—episode that plays as the complement to the episode in which she shrunk down. But whether she’s big or small, Cardcaptor Sakura will always get the job done.

Kakushigoto – 01 (First Impressions) – Den of the Fancypeeps

Hime’s father Gotou Kakushi has a secret (kakushigoto): he draws for a living (kaku shigoto). That right there is triple wordplay! But that’s to be expected of Kumeta Kouji, original creator of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Gotou is voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi, one of the most famous and recognizable male seiyuu of his generation.

Hime is voiced by Takahashi Rie, an immensely talented young voice whose career continues to soar. The show’s music is composed by Hashimoto Yukari, responsible for scoring many RABUJOI all-time favorite series. This is an anime Dream Team. So I immediately expected great things … and Kakushigoto mostly delivered.

While the prologue takes place as an 18-year-old Hime is finally given the key to her father’s secret repository of dirty joke manga manuscripts, the rest of the episode (and likely show) takes place years later, when Hime is in grade school. While I didn’t spot a shrine in their house, it’s implied she passed away, leaving Kakushi to juggle his secret job with Hime’s upbringing—two elements he keeps as separate as oil and water.

Fearing that learning his profession will make her think less of him and might even warp her, Kakushi makes every effort to keep Hime from learning about his job. But everyday circumstances—like a new editor wearing a t-shirt bearing his art coming to his house—make his efforts more difficult.

Adding to the complication of child-rearing in general, Kakushi is not the only person Hime sees and hears things from. Through her friends at school she’s exposed to ideas about having a good job and the importance of…well, being important. You could say Kakushi has a good job—he loves doing it and is good at it—but he’s no “CEO”, a term Hime doesn’t learn from him!

What’s great about Hime is that she is, at the end of the day, a good girl, but not a overly gullible one. She hangs the wish for her father to “be important someday” because she thinks it will make him happy, not because’s she’s disappointed. In this regard, Kakushi is a very lucky man; he could easily have a daughter who’s nosier, or more critical.

That said, Hime does inevitably get caught up in a “Girl’s Detective Agency” mission with her friends when one of them wants to track down the man who saved a cat from a stream (with his buoyant seat pad, no less).

In another instance of clever wordplay, Kakushi warned Hime of a monster named “Oshapi.” The other girls interpret this as “Fancypeeps”, or “fashionable people.” Their teacher confirms the existence of such people who occupy bookstores that don’t sell manga (she’s a fan of Kakuchi’s) and order drinks that sound like “spell names”.

When the girls manage to locate the “hero” (i.e. Kakuchi) they follow him into that “lair” of books and spell-drinks that’s really just an ordinary Starbucks. The other girls let their imaginations run away with them, but Hime remains levelheaded through it all. Though fortunately for Kakuchi, he doesn’t spot him, so his secret as both cat hero and mangaka is safe for now.

In addition to being full of clever language jokes, Kakushigoto is a solid story of a single parent keeping their child safe and happy, and that child weathering external stimuli with that emotional and philosophical happiness intact. In other words, she’s going to be alright, and she’d still love her dad, even if his secret is exposed.

As Hime continues to grow and learn more from sources other than Kakushi, he’ll have to adjust to the fact that his secret will be less and less of a big deal (also it’s not as if he’s an eroge artist). Between Kakuchi’s assistants and other acquaintances and Hime’s teacher and friends, a lot of peripheral players are introduced this week.

Still, the core duo of Kakuchi and Hime shine through as the rightful dual anchors of the show. Their respective social circles should provide quite a bit of variety; this episode featured 2 1/2 to 3 distinct stories in one. The competent direction lacks the flair of an Akiyuki Shinbo, but the writing and performances more than make up for it. I very much like what I’m seeing so far, and looking forward to more!

 

In / Spectre – 12 (Fin) – What a Lovely Day

Whew…Rikka doesn’t play any last-minute trump cards, and Steel Lady Nanase vanishes in a wisp of smoke; the forum have had their say and decided she wasn’t a realy ghost—even though she was.

It turns out Rikka was aware she was dueling with Kotoko and Kurou all along, and emails the latter to congratulate their victory…and warn them that This Isn’t Over. But for now, Kotoko can celebrate her momentous, hard-fought win with Kurou and her youkai associates.

That said, having exerted so much mental energy outwitting Rikka, Kotoko has to rest for a while…a while that turns out to be 28 hours. While she’s asleep, Kurou goes behind her back and has a dinner date with Saki, the scoundrel!

Just kidding; the two have a very proper and cordial dinner as a form of closure on their relationship that ended so abruptly years ago. It’s also an opportunity for Kurou to tell Saki that Rikka is basically trying to create a god who has the power to turn her into a normal human.

The next morning, Kotoko is furious and suspicious about Kurou’s goings-on, and punishes him by getting his only remaining clean shirt wet by pouncing on him straight from the bath and shaking her hair on him, then tumbling around in the bed.

This is why I was so glad the Steel Lady story was wrapped up last week: so we could watch more of this fascinating and endlessly rootable couple interact and bounce off one another. Kotoko is such a formidable firecracker, she practically requires an immortal as a partner.

The two check out of the hotel as it looks close to rain, and Kurou assures Kotoko that he and Saki are so over (which is the truth after all) by comparing her to Princess Iwanaga from the KojikiWhen she’s offended (the princess was sent away because she was homely), he makes an appeal to her surpassing beauty.

After a momentary blush she scolds him for being superficial, then suggests they head for her house to meet with her parents, casually taking Kurou’s hand and holds it tighter and tighter. Honestly, I could watch this pair of lovebirds playfully bicker for another two seasons! Hopefully we’ll get at least one more, since there’s plenty of potential for more supernatural mysteries, not to mention a Rikka rematch.

Read Crow’s review of In/Spectre Episode 12 here.

In / Spectre – 09 – There is No Truth Here

Parliament is in session, and Leader of the Opposition Iwanaga Kotoko confidently casts her first net of logical fiction, hoping to snare enough votes to neutralize Steel Lady Nanase. A string of believable lies issues forth from her brain and fingers into the forums, creating a non-supernatural solution to the murder of Detective Terada. This early in the game she knows she doesn’t have to convince everyone, just enough to start creating reasonable doubt. It’s as much a murder case as a committee for a bill.

Her solution to Terada’s unusual, uncontested murder is surprisingly elegant and plausable, capitalizing on Terada’s general exceptionalism both as a detective and as a judo practitioner. She also makes good use of the site where his body was found (an abandoned gas station on a sleepy road). She spins the yarn of a the unghostly killer rigging a weight on a pendulum and luring Terada to the spot where it would smash into his face at great speed and kill him without resistance.

Since the episode can hardly just show Kotoko tapping away on her laptop in the back seat of a car the whole time, the online committee is visualized as her standing alone in cyberspace, surrounded by the screens of other users on the forum, poking holes into Kotoko’s solution. Kotoko expected this—any underdog would—and rather than trying to make everyone happy by plugging all of those holes, she settles for reducing the belief in the ghost story by increasing the specificity of the “real” killer’s description.

When that description starts sounding an awful lot like Saki, the policewoman turns around to shoot an angry look at Kotoko. She explains that it’s not her intention to frame an innocent policewoman at all, but to create an alternate killer that both fits the facts of the case and has motive (in the case of Kotoko’s fiction, romantic obsession). After all, neither her solution nor the legend of Steel Lady Nanase are true; they are dueling fictions. Since Rikka’s got a huge head start, Kotoko has to use every rhetorical weapon at her disposal to create lasting doubts.

And therein lies the challenge of this committee: even when Kotoko starts to sway the flow of the forum in her direction, the flow changes back to believing in the ghost all too quickly. That’s because Rikka is killing herself, visualizing and choosing the future threads that favor her ghost story. In the meantime, Kurou duelling with Nanase isn’t just to serve as a gauge for the effect of Kotoko’s lies (her power fluctuates in real time), but a way for Kurou to die and see the futures that favor those lies.

Despite it being another extremely talky episode of perhaps the talkiest show of the season, this is honestly all very fascinating and exhilarating to me. Your mileage may vary, but watching Kotoko do her thing is freaking awesome. Not only that, her first solution not holding up long was already folded into her calculations. She has three additional doubt-creating amendments to her proposed bill, so she’s feeling very confident about a legislative upset.

In / Spectre – 08 – The Curious Case of Sakuragawa Rikka

No sooner is Kuro’s mysterious cousin retroactively introduced as his “one true love” is the frail yet hauntingly beautiful Rikka revealed to be not only a fellow mermaid/kudan flesh-eater like Kurou (explaining why she’s his type), but the very mastermind behind the Steel Lady Nanase monster of imagination. Karin’s older sister was a red herring, while Karin herself was only a loose template upon which Rikka crafted a powerful urban legend.

Surprisingly—and yet not—Kotoko knew this all along, but coyly kept it from any part of the audience who didn’t suspect Rikka as soon as she was mentioned, not to mention from Saki. Kurou also knew it, which is the main reason he arrived to take the Steel Lady on (not exclusively because Kotoko summoned him).

As for how she knew, Kotoko recognized Rikka’s style in the illustration of Steel Lady Nanase that adorns the website, and which is key to creating a strong and consistent image grafted to existing rumors about the idol Karin’s ghost.

Once a goblin cat informs her that the Steel Lady has reappeared, Kotoko, Kurou, and Saki head to her location. There, Kurou will fight her, all night and dying several times in the process if necessary, as Kotoko works her logically fictitious magic in the car. Kotoko remarks that she’d rather not see her boyfriend die over and over, but this is the best way to keep Nanase from hurting anyone else.

As for why Rikka is doing this, Kotoko believes it’s so she can refine and expand her inherited kudan abilities. As Kurou mentioned, reading the future is an imperfect art, but Rikka is attempting to make her ability as perfect as possible, and is apparently obsessed enough in that venture to overlook the occasional murder.

Kotoko closes the episode with a wonderful analogy, likening her impending duel with Rikka as the start of a committee to discuss a proposed bill in parliament. It’s a deliciously wonky yet apt analogy. Rikka has a powerful, seemingly insurmountable majority with her captivating Steel Lady story and its accompanying imagery.

But here’s where things differ from government: among the “voters”—the tens of thousands who visit the site and contribute to the forums—there are no coalitions, nor alliances. Not only that, the masses aren’t explicitly aware they’re voting for anything; they’re simply going to believe the most compelling story. If Kotoko can convince them Steel Lady Nanase isn’t real, she can steel the votes and the majority, and sap her of her power.

In / Spectre – 07 – Turning Truths Into Lies

The sudden murder of Detective Terada in the middle of the night has made things way more difficult for Kotoko, Kurou, and Saki. Whereas before they had to deal with a moderately nasty spectre spreading fear and havoc within a relatively small sphere, now they must contend with a nationally known monster who has truly gone viral, only increasing the strength of its existence.

In her hotel room, which she bitterly resents is separate from the one in which her boyfriend resides, Kotoko taps away at her laptop, gathering as much information—as much truth—about the rapidly expanding fantasy of Steel Lady Nanase as possible. Time is of the essence; if they wait just one day, her legend will be too powerful to overcome no matter how convincing the logical fiction.

I’ll be honest: not a heck of a lot actually happens this week. The three leads basically sit in a hotel room and discuss things until Kotoko lands on some possible solutions to the problem. The thing is, In/Spectre is able to draw us into its world so subtly yet completely, even an actionless episode such as this feels consequential.

That’s due in no small part to the show’s hauntingly beautiful soundtrack. It’s a shame the anime’s composer isn’t listed anywhere obvious, because this wouldn’t be half the show it is without the music, which I find casts a kind of wondrous spell on me during otherwise interminable exchanges of exposition.

Through the lengthy scene in the hotel room, Saki observes that her ex has developed a nice rapport with Kotoko, depsite his protestations that the last thing he wanted was to go out with her, along with the fact that Kotoko is nowhere near his type. As for who is his type, Saki introduces the woman who was 100% Kurou’s type: his older cousin Rikka, a frail woman who nevertheless had a profound impact on the lad. We’ll see next week how she figures into this tale.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 07 – Spilling Tea for Art’s Sake

Tsubame’s unyielding passion to capture the motion of the world around her through drawing started when she was in grade school, watching her grandma toss tea into the yard with a precise, practiced motion. The action fascinated her, and she yearned to master it herself so she could capture it in all its glory.

When she ended up in classes on how to stand, sit, and walk in preparation for her modeling career, Tsubame voraciously jotted down all the various motions, even discerning a better way for her infirm grandma to move and walk more comfortably. She carries that passion on in every frame of animation she’s drawing for this robot anime.

She does this in defiance of her mother’s insistence she not get involved in animation, but also in lieu of getting the proper amount of sleep or paying sufficient attention in class. Yet even if she’s sleep-deprived and her grades start to slip, there’s no alternative. Tsubame is gradually learning not to be a total perfectionist, but she’s never going to give anything less than 110% effort.

With Doumeki on board, the trio now have someone with far more audio know-how than the rest of them combined, but that just means she’s able to describe in precise demoralizing detail all of the challenges they face and the consequences of not properly harmonizing visuals and sound.

Meanwhile, Midori is presented artwork that the artists believe was following her instructions, but which she worries will fundamentally change the film they’re making. The artists need to be more flexible, but she needs to be more precise in her direction.

While I’m sure Sayaka considers it another strictly-business opportunity to give her talent a much-needed break, and it is their bathhouse visit after school is closed due to rain turns out to be a nice bonding experience. There’s a familial intimacy to bathing together that the team previously lacked.

It’s also fun to watch Midori dutifully call her very nice parents to let her know where she is and what she’s doing with whom, as well as the very rich Tsubame marveling at every aspect of the bathhouse experience, as well as insisting Sayaka douses Midori over and over so she can watch the motion of the water —much like she asked her granny to keep tossing tea.

The three then dine on crawfish after catching their fair share themselves (though they can’t eat the same fish they caught, as they must be purged of mud first, Midori points out), and Midori and Tsubame whip out their sketchbooks to capture their dinner in all its crustacean glory. Few moments of these young women’s lives seem to ever pass without them capturing it with pen or pencil on paper.

When the rain subsides, they return to their studio, and Tsubame gradually becomes frustrated with her animation of a chainsaw. After discussing possible remedies with Midori, the two bring in Sayaka, who thinks its fine and that they should watch it with sound. Sure enough, it makes more than enough impact for the quick cut…but Tsubame isn’t quite satisfied.

Both Midori and Tsubame consider anime to be the best way to appreciate movement, more so than even live action film, and that comes down to intent. The imagination, passion and effort of a great animator comes out in every frame of their work, lending it greater impact than a mere directed and photographed live-action actor.

Tsubame isn’t looking to “make people smile” with her anime. She wants to be able to wow people like her, who can’t help but spot every potential flaw or revelation; notice every triumph or defeat. By being her own harshest, uncompromising critic, an artiste like Tsubame could potentially problems for a production on a shoestring budget and tight deadline.

But doggone it, the eventual visual rewards of letting her go wild are well worth the pain. It’s why Sayaka is almost always irritated and annoyed, but she’ll gladly bear those emotions if it results in an exceptional—and profitable—final product. When you successfully harness the chaotic energy of special talents and personalities, great things can happen. And like a rocket taking off, the sky’s the limit.

In / Spectre – 06 – Conquering the Imagination, Grasping the Future

Practically speaking, most of this episode takes place in Saki’s apartment, and ends with Kurou biking Kotoko to the hotel for the night. None of the characters actually do anything, because this isn’t the kind of show where there’s always loads of action.

Instead, the three spend the whole time discussing the Nanase Haruko accidental death case, the online legend that bred the monster of imagination, and the proper steps needed to defeat that legend. The Steel Lady is not something Kurou can kill physically as long as hundreds if not thousands of people believe in her in her increasingly dangerous form.

 

That said, Kotoko knows their odds of coming up with a better “rational fiction” to blunt the Steel Lady’s power aren’t great, so she intends to cross every “T” and dot every I-Beam. After coaxing the official police position that Nanase’s death was a possible suicide, Kotoko confirms their suspicions by interviewing an unrelated third-party eyewitness to her death…who happens to be a ghost.

The means by which Kotoko summons the ghost—a “goddess’ dance” seems tailored not just to impress the former contruction worker, or annoy Saki, but because she definitely has a genuine joie de vivre about her life and her duties…and why not? Losing and eye and a leg feels totally worth it if in return you have an information network beyond the bounds of mankind or science.

With both the police conclusions and the eyewitness concluding an emotionally distraught Nanase did nothing to move out of the way of the falling beams, Kotoko has a full picture of the past, but that’s the easy part. She’s going to have to come up with a story that narrows down all the possible futures to come into a single one: one in which no one cares about Steel Lady Nanase anymore.

Even in the midst of all this careful analysis and preparation, I’m glad Kotoko still finds time to be a brat to Saki or to flirt with Kurou, as when she invites him to share her double bed at the hotel. Even so, she is clear-eyed about not knowing whether Kurou will be in her future, making it that much more important to make the best use of the time they have.

As for Kurou, it’s fascinating to hear him describe the abilities of the kudan, specifically that they don’t look into the future so much as pull all the branches of possibility into a single bundle. Kurou can use those powers to a degree, but not without dying.

While the mermaid flesh he ate means he’ll come back to life, his kudan powers are limited by the brief amount of time he has to look forward (the further into the future, the more branches, the less accurate he is) before resurrecting. For now, he’s confident he’ll be able to grasp the future he and Kotoko need, at least with regards to solving this case. Getting back with Saki is a future he can neither see nor reach.

Kotoko just hopes the Nanase saga won’t be complicated by an actual murder in the night while they sleep, but unfortunately that’s exactly what happens, only making their task even more difficult. Worse still, the victim is Detective Terada, Saki’s colleague, who wrongly assumed Nanase was a normal person in cosplay.

We also catch a glimpse of the mastermind behind the site and the Steel Lady legend. Is it Nanase’s older sister? Nanase herself? I can’t wait to see how this case is resolved, in large part because it was set up so smartly and carefully.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 06 – No Groaning, Moaning, or Excuses

The Eizoken has 96 days to produce a 15-20 minute anime about a robot fighting a crabtle, and its members must contend with a nearly infinitely more complex production. More action scenes, more sound effects, more backgrounds, more of everything they already did with Machete Girl, only they’ll also need more classically epic music and voice actors for dialogue.

Kanamori Sayaka, the ever-steady executive producer, keeps the ship on course in these early stages, knowing when to crack the whip and when to show kindness and generosity…or at least that last bit would have been the case if she’d actually treated the artists to ramen. That said, never carrying more than 1,000 yen at all times is an elegant, effective means of budgeting!

She can forsee that this production could easily drain their finances, and the student council is keeping a watchful eye, so Sayaka decides to play ball, acting both as council enforcer and interested party with the delinquent Sound Club.

She gives its only member Doumeki an offer she can’t refuse, offering protection in exchange for access to her ridiculously vast collection of sounds, plus her own expertise as audio advisor. Doumeki is also compelled to sell much of the collection for club funds, and Sayaka and the Eizouken will get a cut of that.

Sayaka can’t do it all, however. She can only create a stable enough environment in which Midori and Tsubame can work. But there’s more work than the two of them will ever be able to complete in time, so they need to delegate some of the work to a willing art club (who like the robot club were impressed by Machete Girl).

In their first meeting with the art club, Midori constantly needs help from both Sayaka and one of the club’s members to get out what she’s trying to say. She’s simply not good at telling people what to do, but if she doesn’t, there’s no giant robot anime.

While recharging her depleted brain with some late afternoon sketching, Midori falls down a well of self-doubt, worried there’s no way she can make a robot anime that will satisfy everyone. Sayaka delivers the tough love speech she Midori in her moment of vulnerability. It’s not about satisfying everyone, but making a final product on time that she can be satisfied with and proud of.

As evidenced from their reaction to Machete Girl, Midori and Tsubame are their own most exacting critics, so it sounds counterproductive to tell her to trust in her own sensibilities. But Midori is eventually able to reconcile some of the inconsistencies (or as Tsubame calls them, “crimes” committed in order to field a giant robot anime), and regains her motivation.

Hands Off the Eizouken! has beautiful, terrifically imaginative art and a wonderfully novel way of visualizing its artists’ creations, but besides all that one shouldn’t overlook its devotion to what makes a good anime: characters you care about overcoming obstacles internal and external to achieve something great.

In / Spectre – 05 – A Ghost Born from a Wiki

very cross Saki arrives just in time to witness her ex go toe-to-toe with the vicious steel beam-wielding ghost of an idol. Saki had seen Kurou’s cuts heal immediately and even saw his detached finger regenerate, but had never seen him die, which is what happens when Nanase whacks his head off.

I was surprised Saki didn’t let out a scream upon witnessing such a  horrifying sight, but in possibly an even more unsettling sight, Kurou’s head is whole again and he’s alive and well just a minute or so later.

Having taken her best shot, Nanase can’t really do anything else other than try to kill Kurou again. Kurou is also able to predict her generally mindless movements, but even when he snaps her neck she’s back as quickly as he was. Perhaps sensing a stalemate, Nanase disapparates to fight another night.

We learn through Kotoko that Kurou is the result of his insane grandmother performing human experimentation on members of the Sakuragawa clan and the flesh of the immortal mermaid and future-seeing kudan. Kurou was the first to consume both and not immediately keel over and die, but in gaining the abilities of the monsters he ate, he naturally became less human.

This is no doubt a large part of why Kotoko is so enamored of Kurou—they both inhabit the space between humans and the supernatural, and who else would be able to deal with either of them? But while Kotoko is determined to make Kurou her husband, Kurou seems to be less enthusiastic and even fatalistic about the prospect of such an often annoying brat being his only hope at happiness.

Kurou’s reunion with Saki is pleasantly cordial, underscoring how there’s still love there for both of them and things ended so abruptly as to lack closure, and thus cause emotional confusion upon seeing one another again. The reason Kurou is there is because some of the monsters in the city sought out his aid without using Kotoko as a go-between, demonstrating effectiveness of her efforts to make him less frightening to her supernatural pals.

Meeting in Saki’s apartment, where Kotoko must endure Kurou staring at his ex (who says she lost weight due to her police job, not depression), Kotoko explains how a “monster of the imagination” like Steel Lady Nanase comes into physical existence. It’s essentially a matter of humans playing a game of telephone with each other regarding a rumor, which is spread, embellished, and refined until it is given name and a form.

Typically monsters of imagination aren’t grave threats to humanity, but Steel Lady Nanase clearly is, and the rumor that eventually gave her form was essentially supercharged by the power of the internet to reach more people and gain viral status. Thus, the wiki Saki found wasn’t created in response to Nanase, Nanase was created because of the wiki.

Kurou can fight Nanase all night long, every night, but she’ll never be defeated for good until a new rumor, one simultaneously more enticing to people and less lethal to people than the current iteration. That won’t be easy, but Kotoko is already a powerful conduit for human-supernatural networking, which means no one’s better suited for the job.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 05 – Blue-Collar Giant Robot

The newly-validated Eizouken could be forgiven for taking it easy in the shadow of their triumph. They worked their butts off with very little sleep, and it’s never mentioned how badly it affected either their academic studies or Tsubame’s modeling schedule. However, Sayaka puts them right back on track for their next project, which will be bigger and more ambitious.

She’s secured a commission from the school’s robot club to create a giant robot anime, a key promotion for both clubs to be presented as the centerpiece of the upcoming cultural festival. During their initial meet-and-greet, Midori’s imagination gets the best of her, as she finds herself in the middle of a drama involving dark, secret facilities and brainwashed friends.

Never ones to stare at blank paper, the girls explore the sprawling underground network beneath the school, where the setting takes on a distinct Girls Last Tour look and feel, in order to stimulate and feed their imaginations. The trip is a fruitful one, as Midori and Tsubame work out the concept of a crab/turtle hybrid with a heat attack and shockwave-creating claw as the robot’s opponent.

Midori is the scaredy-cat of the group, but also the most cautious and prepared for contingencies. Sayaka and Tsubame would have been SOL had their friend not brought rope and a shovel when the three fall into a pit. Meanwhile the show’s real-life setting continues to amaze with its whimsical complexity.

The next step is ostensibly where Sayaka will shine: the negotiations that lead to the official start of the project. However, in this case she’s unable to secure any blackmail bait for negotiation purposes, and one of the robot club’s members is both passionate and obstinate in his vision.

His problem is that while he knows what he wants, he can’t visualize it, so he was liable to reject anything that deviated from that impossible ideal. Sayaka is bailed out from this ordeal when Tsubame and Midori relate to the stubborn member as comrades in frustration with the mundaneness of the world, its lack of real giant robots, spaceships, and hadokens.

With that obstacle removed, the girls collaborate with the robot club members in brainstorming a direction for the design of the robot and its weaponry, which will include a chainsaw, pile driver and metal drill (not wood!). All of its camera and sensor functions are streamlined into a sleek retro-style head.

This marks the first time others have borne witnesses to Midori and Tsubame’s visualized flights of fancy, but the extra input results in a complex final model that Sayaka is worried will be a bitch to animate. Even so, with official standing, additional resources, and a more realistic timeline, I don’t doubt Tsubame and Midori can pull it off, and it will be loads of fun to watch!

 

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 04 – The Advantage of High Standards

With only a month to go until the budget committee, we open on an Eizouken in crisis. For all the work Midori and Tsubame have done, they only have a few seconds of finished work to show for it. Midori can get los in her detailed worlds, while Tsubame is a proud perfectionist. Sayaka knows they’re dead in the water at such a slow pace, which means corners have to be cut somewhere.

That said, Midori and Tsubame wouldn’t bother making an anime, no matter how short or shallow, without showing off the skills they’ve amassed. Sayaka must always walk the delicate line between keeping the girls on schedule and not crushing their dreams. The three exhibit the flexibility needed in such a venture to agree to compromises they can all live with.

Yet even with a good final product (and the episode is coy about how much progress they make in realizing their vision), the Eizouken is up against a circus-like atmosphere the day of the committee, and a hostile student council intent on suspending their activities before they even have a chance to show their work. When Sayaka’s lawyering scares the adults but not the StuCo, Midori insists they at least see what they’ve been working on.

Then their anime plays out more or less in real time, and the animation, while simple and rough, is so dynamic that everyone in the auditorium reacts like they’ve been flung in the middle of the kinetic battle between the Machete Girl and her tank nemesis. Everyone in attendance is bowled over…except for our perfectionist creators, constantly critiquing the work and coming up with improvements for the future.

Having witnessed just how much the Eizouken can accomplish without a budget or a fair deadline, the StuCo has no choice but to see what they are capable of with both. That could possibly backfire—having backs against the wall is a common motivator—but I doubt it.

The enthusiastic fires in Midori and Tsubame have never burned brighter than at the end of their presentation, and Sayaka seems pleased that other outsiders saw what she saw in these two: they’re special, and they are capable of great things no matter the conditions.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 03 – Gas Mask Girl vs. Personal Defense Tank

The accident video turns out not to have any adverse consequences (for now) but did net the Film Club 30,000 yen, most of which was spent on repairs. It’s a good thing Sayaka is around to keep the wild-eyed dreamer and the rich girl in line, monetarily speaking.

While Midori and Tsubame are easily distracted by a butterfly or tanuki, Sayaka makes sure they take this seriously, because the school will only promote a serious association to full club status. First order of business is repairing the roof, a task the animators visualize as EVA on a spaceship.

Once they’ve had a meal and a discussion on what’s physically possible in the 55 days they have until the budget discretionary hearing, the trio take the train to Midori’s place. Most of the ads happen to feature Tsubame, attracting a couple of fans and reminding us of her notoriety.

One also imagines she’ll likely have a modeling job or two during those 55 days. When it’s clear that a 3600-frame 5-minute animated short will be too much work for the two of them, they shorten it to three minutes.

Once at Midori’s modest apartment (with its neat checkered carpet), the brainstorming commences. Midori has books full of cool concepts, and they settle on one that’s relatively simple, as most of the structures are cubes. More elaborate environments can wait until they’re on sturdier organizational and financial ground.

Watching Midori and Tsubame bounce off each other and create worlds before our eyes is never not thrilling, but it’s also rewarding to see how the enterprising Sayaka reacts to their “creative rampages,” by finding a way to combine the two artists’ disparate visions.

Sayaka exhibits emotional intelligence by ensuring neither of the animators are discouraged to the point of adversely affecting their enthusiasm and productivity. She’s also pretty sure they can save money on paper by simply buying a hole punch!

By episodes end, the broad strokes of the short have been hammered out. Tsubame’s efforts will center on a high school girl in a gas mask (to limit the need to draw full facial expressions) armed with a machete, who battles an adorable “Personal Defense Tank” designed by Midori in a low-gravity environment.

If what they end up animating looks anything like the concept story-boarding they made in their minds, they should be on a one-way-street to acknowledgement as a full film club. But that’s a big if, and there’s still the possibilty of butting heads with budget adjudicators who aren’t okay with the concept of a second anime-related club, or simply aren’t into animation.

In the battle to come, Midori, Sayaka, and Tsubame are Gas Mask Girl, while the school is the tank. Somehow, they must find a way to prevail.