Those Snow White Notes – 12 (Fin) – An Abrupt Coda

Last week I railed against Notes for splitting Setsu’s climactic performance across two episodes, since it left us hanging in the middle with no cathartic payoff. Now I understand that such a choice was probably intentional: the last episode marked the end of him merely imitating his gramps, and this final one marked the first time we’ve heard Setsu at 100% His Own Sound.

Kudos to the musical direction and performance here; Setsu As Setsu sounds like no one else, and this sound not only fills the physical venue, but summons long-forgotten memories in one of the judges, moves Sakura and Shuri to tears, makes Mai to make a face that screams “I KNEW it!”…and pisses off his mom royally. It also makes young master Kamiki want to play the shamisen in the worst way.

It’s a triumphant performance, and I’ll admit I was as caught up in it as Setsu and his friends, to the point I felt it impossible that he would lose. Alas, he’s not the final performer, and the best was saved for last. I was fully prepared to listen to Souichi and declare him inferior, but credit where it’s due: Souichi’s performance was better the Setsu’s and everyone else’s.

More to the point, Souichi is confident, even after hearing Setsu (or maybe because of hearing him,), that he would win. I have no problem with that. But like Sakura, I was super-steamed that Setsu came not in second but in third, behind that twangy jackass Arakawa Ushio, who might be tied with Mai for most one-dimensional character of the season.

Umeko hands out the rewards, but intentionally drops Setsu’s and lets it shatter between their feet. Never mind that this was the first time he ever played in a competition, has no teacher, and can’t read music. She leans in and tells him he’s pathetic and he embarrassed her. What a mom!

But while Umeko gives off SAO villain vibes, Setsu’s dad—whom we only found out a couple of weeks ago even was his dad—is more Ikari Gendo. [Soup Nazi Voice]: NO LOVE FOR YOU! Honestly, both of Setsu’s parents should be jailed. Once it’s Kamiki’s turn to point out to Setsu how such a two-faced performance was always giong to suffer in a competition, well…

Having your angsty protagonist reach his highest high only to be ground into the dirt by evil adults is a strange way to end a series it’s by no means guaranteed will get a second season. There isn’t even any glimmer of hope that things will look up for him, as the episode ends with him sulking in the darkness, too immersed in his own despair to notice Sakura is on the other side of his door.

The musical performances were spellbinding, but they were overshadowed by all the doom and gloom at the end. Even if everything Kamiki said about Setsu was absolutely right, I don’t watch anime to get depressed, man! We’re rewarded for watching for twelve weeks with a big ‘ol F-You. If this is a one-and-done season, this finale is as big of a failure as Umeko perceives her son to be.

I’ll end with another Simpsons quote, which perfectly encapsulates Setsu’s journey:

“You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

Those Snow White Notes – 11 – Get To the Good Part!

I don’t usually harp on structural issues, unless they’re detrimental to an episode on a level that can’t be overlooked. Unfortunately, this was one of those episodes. It just…wasn’t built right, and that starts with last week ending with Kaji breaking a string, instead of ending with him and all the other stiffs getting the hell off the stage and giving way to Setsu.

So, instead of getting all of the other stuff out of the way and giving us a climactic musical performance in which Setsu finally figures out the happy medium between imitating Gramps and building his own sound from what he’s experienced since Gramps…get get more other stuff.

Look, Kaji’s a nice guy, but I just don’t really care about him that much, and I’m certainly not that chuffed about having to watch him finish out his song on two strings. I could have also done without Umeko stepping up to Setsu when he’s just trying to eat the love-filled onigiri Sakura made for him and basically telling him he’d better resurrect her dead unsung father or else.

That said, I’ve never had a problem with the fact that Setsu’s mom is both a literal Bond Villain and Bond Girl, isn’t the issue, nor to I mind her fantastic royal blue dress or surpassingly cheesy hired cheer team. It’s just I wish Setsu could just have some time to himself to organize his thoughts and play however he was planning to play.

Instead, his mom’s unmistakable hold over him kicks in, and I was fully expecting him to lay an egg up there by constantly wavering between his own uncertain sound and perfectly imitating what he could never perfectly imitate, and coming off forced, boring, or even pathetic!

Once Setsu finally does take the stage—fifteen minutes into the episode!—I knew whatever performance he had, we were only going to get half of it, tops, due to the perfectly avoidable time constraints.

At the same time, we see that Setsu truly does love playing like his Gramps, or at least as close as he can come. He remembers a day he came home with a skinned knee, the victim of bullies, and his Gramps welcoming him with a soft smile and permission to cry as much as he wants, get angry at those who caused him to cry, and when he’s done, simply smile.

Setsu doesn’t turn in an embarrassing performance, but he is initially playing right into his mom’s hands by doing the best darn Matsugorou imitation anyone alive could ever do, which simply comes down to him having heard his gramps play for years. Umeko smirks her Dr. Evil smirk and holds her hands out to clutch not her son, but the tool with which she’ll show the world her father’s—not his—sound.

In the midst of his music, everyone who has heard Setsu’s real sound acknowledge that his performance is amazing, but also somehow deeply wrong. Those who haven’t heard him before are amazed a 16-year-old is producing such a simple yet mature sound. Setsu knows it’s wrong too; that even his Gramps told him simple imitation of the kind Umeko is demanding was “disgraceful”.

Perhaps Gramps could have chosen better words than that and “never play again”, but by taking a break from the instrument, Setsu got to live his life, meet new friends, experience new things and make new memories. Those, combined with past memories of Gramps and not just how he played but why—because he loved doing it, not to win—can be used to craft his own sound.

Now that Setsu has a blueprint, his performance suddenly changes to his more youthful, mercurial sound. Alas, that’s all the time we’ve got for this week, and so we cut to credits in the middle of a performance. The magic and the power of these musical performance scenes is in how they draw you in and cover you in goosebumps. To suddenly end in the middle without that needed final payoff (or climax, if you must) saps the scene of that immersive power.

Also constantly pulling us in and out of Setsu’s performance is the running commentary. I get it: this isn’t just about the awesome, sakugo-filled performances; the show is trying to tell more stories than that and wants us to be invested in a larger group of characters. But that doesn’t change the fact that filling scenes with dialogue, lowering the music he’s playing and replacing it with a comparatively subpar score, and cutting the performance off just feels like a real bummer, and a needless one to boot.

If I were the showrunner, I’d have wrapped up Kaji and the others plus Setsu’s scenes with Umeko and his friends, and ended last week with Setsu taking the stage, but not yet playing. Then this episode could have been his performance in its entirety. But this is the end of my ranting, and so I’ll close by saying for all its frustrating choices I still enjoyed this episode, and look forward to seeing where the second, more personal, more mom-enraging half Setsu’s performance takes everyone—and him—next week!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Misfit of Demon King Academy – 10 – Magic Cheaters Never Prosper

Just because the Demons are in hostile territory doesn’t mean they all start getting along. When top-ranked third-year Royalist Revest Aynie learns how early Anos arrived, he suspects cheating, but Anos doesn’t rise to his provocations, instead praising Revest for requiring so little time himself.

Yet when Revest is chosen as the first Demon Academy student to compete in a magical competition against a Hero student, he can’t even cast a spell on a mouse, much to the amusement of the extremely arrogant and haughty Hero Academy’s headmaster, Diego.

Anos reveals that the humans cheated, casting an anti-demon magic spell. This becomes a common refrain this week: the Hero Academy blatantly cheating at every turn, while the Demon Academy’s Royalist faction shoots themselves in the foot for refusing to maintain a united front with the Anos and their Hybrid comrades.

In Melheis’ report to Anos, he cannot find a mention of Hero Kanon being murdered by a human in the legends, but does interpret a passage he found to foretell that when the Demon King returns to Azeshion—i.e. Anos right now—the Hero will return with the Spirit God Human Sword Evansmana in hand: the holy sword forged to destroy him anew.

Sasha and Misha aren’t about to let Anos spend a quiet evening to himself in his room…not when there’s a night festival to attend! As the three walk the stalls together, Anos spots Ray and Misa, but Sasha urges him not to approach them.

That’s because she can tell they’d only be intruding. Ray, grateful for Misa’s help in saving her mother, wants Misa to cheer up and forget the problems with their academy factions for one night, and accept a shell necklace he won at the shooting game. I for one am fully aboard this adorable ship!

The next morning the Hero and Demon Academies participate in the main inter-academy competition, which involves a battle beneath the lake where there are underwater ruins and caverns, a truly awesome setting. Less awesome is the fact the Humans are cheating again.

The very water in the lake is mixed with Holy Water, which increases their magical ability but is toxic to demons. It’s even more toxic for Revest and his pureblooded elite Royalist team; had he drawn upon the ranks of Hybrids, they might have stood a better chance in the face of the Human cheating.

Instead, Revest & Co. are utterly defeated by the trio of Hero reincarnations, and he and his team have to be rescued by Anos. Menou-sensei, a longtime mentor and friend of Revest who knows how kindhearted he is and how hard he fought for his top-ranked position, tries to heal him, but her magic has no effect since he has a stigma caused by Holy magic.

Among the Demon Academy contingent, only Anos has the power to heal the stigma, and despite Revest hating Anos with every bone in his body, accepts Anos’ help for Menou-sensei’s sake. Perhaps this is the first step towards the Demons finally forming a united front and dispensing with the infighting that falls right into the Hero Academy’s hands.

Having stayed on the sidelines, Anos, accompanied by the Necron sisters, Ray, Misa, and the Fan Club, challenge the Hero trio to a round two, but not in the Holy Water-infused lake. When one of the heroes jokingly says they’ll wait while the lake is drained, Anos proceeds to…drain the motherfucking lake, using a massive fireball to steam all of the water away, creating an even more dramatic venue for the next battle.

Diego and his Heroes were able to steal a couple of cheap wins this week, but the tide has not just turned, but vanished into thin air! I imagine even if and when the Humans deploy their secret weapon (described only as “that” and appearing as a young lady with black hair), Anos will be ready and able to deal with it. And if not, he’s got all his allies by his side to support him.

Chihayafuru 2 – 21

Ayase Chihaya, Wataya Arata

Chihaya struggles early against Yuube, but once she stops overthinking, goes with a more basic approach, and flips around the cards on her own side to make them easier to take with her left hand, and eeks out a win by two cards. Arata and Shinobu quickly defeat their opponents, and all the other Mizusawa players advance. Nishida has to face Arata in the next round, and while he puts up a passionate fight, he ultimately loses. Chihaya moves on to the Final 8, but rather than Arata, her next opponent is Shinobu.

Wow, this individual tournament is moving along at quite a clip! In a single episode we go from 32 players to just eight; Chihaya figures out how to switch her game from right to left, defeats two players, and with four episodes left, Chihaya is about to face off against her nememuse, the Queen herself: Wakamiya Shinobu. As a result, while she was saving her right hand for Arata (that just sounds wrong…), she knows she’ll have to use it against Shinobu. That’s a huge gamble, especially when last week a single tentative swipe caused intense pain.

But while the odds are very much against her no matter what hand she uses, Fujisaki’s loss proved that giants can be slain. If Chihaya defeated Shinobu to finally face off against Arata, you can be assured we’d pretty much lose it. That would be like a whole season of Kyousuke and Kuroneko dating. Arata, meanwhile, is just scary good, and even with all the negative energy directed at his game (his parents want him to lose so they don’t have to pay for his college in Tokyo), he eliminates his first opponent and barely breaks a sweat dispatching Nishida. We hope Chihaya’s journey doesn’t end with Shinobu doing to her what Arata did to Nishida.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Chihayafuru 2 – 20

Mashima Taichi, Ayase Chihaya

The team receives their championship awards and banner, but Chihaya’s finger has swollen and Miyauchi takes her to an emergency clinic, where she’s diagnosed with a chip fracture and told to avoid strenuous activity. At the inn, Chihaya lies down beside a sleeping Taichi and recalls the matches that got them to the championship. The next morning she decides to use her left hand to play rather than simply forfeit. The four classes split off, and Chihaya first faces off against Akashi’s aggressive Yuube Keiko, who takes an early lead when Chihaya’s left hand proves too slow.

Karuta is such an obscure game, even in its native Japan, that the physician who tends to Chihaya’s finger has no idea just how intense it can get. Yet even within that incredibly narrow, specific world of karuta, we’ve learned that there’s a universe of complexity, beauty and strength. We also learn that the Chairman of Japanese karuta has a similar belief as Shinobu: that team tournaments are no big deal and even chaotic and “messy” compared to the peerless artistry of the individual tournament. It’s kind of mean for the show to pile on the team-hate immediately after Mizusawa played their goddamn hearts out to win the highest team honor there is.

And even if she values the team matches much more than Shinobu or the Chairman or even Arata, even Chihaya can’t help but buy into the superiority of the individual matches. But she also made a promise to win in every class, and that can’t happen if she forfeits. Thus her motivation to play is just as much honoring that promise to her team as it was buying into the primacy of the individuals. There’s no rest for the weary, and when her first ginger attempt to strike the mat causes extreme pain, Chihaya rolls the dice and switches to her left hand. The initial results are less than inspiring, but who knows, maybe she’ll be able make that hand match the speed of her ears and sense.

7_very_good
Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Porky’s sister makes her brother’s team congratulatory tees in a new deeper blue color. She’s a class act, plus we were getting bored with the powder blue.
  • These individual matches will either continue into a future third season of Chihayafuru, or be so brief as to be anticlimactic  But its not like the team tournament could’ve been stretched across the rest of this season’s episodes…that would have frankly been torturous.
  • Chihaya lies down beside Taichi, but perpendicularly…a nice visual representation of just how differently they think about each other. 
  • Arata is going to college in Tokyo and Taichi is not happy with that.
  • Sumire learns about the childhood friend love triangle and wigs out. Ironically, if Taichi was into her, everyone would be happy…unless Chihaya isn’t really romantically interested in Arata.
  • Shinobu means to crush everyone. So as it turns out, she learned nothing. Oh well!