Okaa-san Online – 01 (First Impressions) – ZOMRPG, MOM!!!

One night, Oosuki is filling out a survey heavy on questions about his relationship to his mother, and the next morning a government official informs him that he’s been selected to enter a video game world. But he doesn’t go alone. His mom follows him in, and will be joining him on his full-dive fantasy adventure!

That’s the high concept, broad-strokes premise to an episode that then proceeds to take its sweet old time immersing Masato and his mom into this new world, an as-yet-unnamed MMO that’s still in beta. Their role is to play the game so that the producers can gather data.

Masato already has reservations about his mom following him along for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, but they turn to downright frustration when she demonstrates she can dual-wield legendary weapons and decimate multiple targets at once. His basic attack is pathetic by comparison.

So, of course, he lashes out, threatening to “disown” his mom in a moment of unguarded rage. That’s when his mom (named Mamako) starts to cry, telling him no one has ever said anything so mean and sad to her. He quickly backtracks, apologizing profusely, and his mom, being a very nice mom, easily forgives him.

They teleport into a town to gather a party at the Adventurer’s Guild, but after pulling the game guide out of her bust, Mamako decides to make a strong first impression by smashing a giant hole into the guild hall, much to Masato’s dismay.

Shirase, the woman who sent them into the game, is there to greet them, bleeding from the head (turns out she’s a game object and the blood is just an effect). And naturally, as they look over party members, Mamako is thinking about finding a nice young woman to team up with him.

Okaa-san Online takes the opposite approach of Arifureta and starts us off at the very beginning of Masato and Mamako’s story, but I still felt an inescapable impatience with the slow pace and the episode’s need to explain terms like “PK”, as if this was someone’s first isekai rodeo.

There’s also the little matter of the show looking pretty atrocious. Like the game in which mother and son find themselves (though I don’t mind their white pupils, like Moriko’s in MMO Junkie), the show just feels sparse and incomplete, both visually and conceptually, what with its lazy, unimaginative hand-waving.

The music has its epic moments, but can be too assertive during quieter scenes. And while the underlying premise is pretty funny at first blush, the comedic dialogue and pacing is iffy at best. With execution lacking in effort and attention to detail, I can’t see myself sticking with this for long. After all, Mama didn’t raise no fool.

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Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 06 – Karen Meets a Crazy Person

We’re back to the time when Saki and her teammates visit Karen, watch her win the SJ on her enormous TV and introduce themselves. As a rhythmic gymnastics team, they had a hard time operating as a cohesive unit due to personal differences. Playing GGO changed all that; now they’re a well-oiled machine, and care more about progressing in the game than with their real-life team!

The girls voice their hope Karen will face off against them in the next Squad Jam, and when Karen says she has no firm plans to do so, they’re both happy that they won’t have to face one more strong opponent, and sad they won’t get to have a rematch and the opportunity to beat her next time. Karen heads home to Hokkaido and hangs out with her friend Miyu; on the plane back to Tokyo she learns Squad Jam 2 is officially on.

Karen is then confronted by M’s player, the extremely odd Goushi Asougi, who tells her that Pitohui is planning to commit suicide IRL if she loses SJ2, which means Goushi will kill himself soon thereafter, since he is utterly devoted to her and always defers to Pito’s will, no matter how crazy. That, in turn, pretty much makes him crazy as well.

They say love makes you crazy, but there’s a strange superficiality to Goushi’s behavior; like he’s trying too hard to be extra-kooky. Then there’s the whole idea of recruiting Karen to beat them, and in exchange he can guarantee Pito won’t kill herself, which means he won’t die either.

Considering the suddenness of all this information, it simply doesn’t carry that much weight for me, even though it’s clear Karen’s favorite musician is the one with these psychological problems. It seems like a very random and not-at-all emotionally earned excuse to raise the stakes to live-and-death, like SAO.

Karen agrees to participate in SJ2, even if that means validating and facilitating the questionable behavior of two mentally unstable strangers. Both Goushi and Pito’s player seem like they need actual help, help that’s beyond Karen’s abilities. And Goushi doesn’t bother explaining why Pito losing to anyone else means suicide, but losing to Karen doesn’t. I dunno about this…

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 05 – Run, Close In, then Win

After running from a somewhat pathetic display from a suddenly sobbing and Raving M (who actually believes Pitohui will murder him IRL if he loses), LLENN decides she’ll have to win the SJ all by herself, despite her opponents being very smart, crafty, and downright scary in their relentlessness.

Her foes look tough and grizzled, and aren’t afraid to rain bullets down upon LLENN in order to spring her from her hiding spots. The only thing is, she’s so small and quick actually getting a killshot proves most difficult. Despite her wavering confidence and the near-arrogant attitude of her opponent, both parties are on the same level here.

Perhaps due to her critical HP level, LLENN starts to hear her P90 “P-chan” glow, talk to her and even sprout eyes to make a face, which is definitely the most demented and terrifying thing GGO has shown us thus far.

Regardless, P-chan manages to fire LLENN up, and she remembers how and why she’s succeeded so far: not by running, hiding, and keeping her distance, but by blazing in so close to her opponents they cannot get a clean lock on her, and overwhelming them with her quickness, and peppering them with P90 bullets.

She executes her preferred strategy by taking on Eva, the “Boss” of the enemy squad, whose enormous size and brute force end up momentarily overwhelming LLENN, who needs a last-second assist from M, who manage to gathered up what was left of his decency and rejoin the fray (and who does thrive from great distance).

Eventually, LLENN and Eva run out of bullets, but Eva’s lieutenant tosses her a new clip, and LLENN has no choice but to sacrifice P-chan to shield her from the bullets, then whip out her knife and carve the Boss up like a turkey to take the SJ win, demonstrating the literally cutthroat tenacity required to prevail over such a tough opponent.

Back IRL, the short cute girls Karen passes by so often finally approach her, led by Nitobe Saki. They’re second-years at the high school affiliated with Karen’s college, and just wanted to tell her how stylish and cool she always looks, especially with her new ‘do.

Then Saki draws Karen in close with a handshake and quietly congratulates her on her victory. Saki is Eva, the hulking Boss she defeated as LLENN, and her friends and fellow rhythmic gymnastic teammates are ready for a rematch any time.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 03 – Pressing Rewind with Middling Results

GGO’s first episode thrust us right into the middle of the Squad Jam, while the second took us back to Karen first got into the game. This third episode continues the flashback, bringing us up to the start of the SJ.

But since the result of the SJ is a foregone conclusion, the extended set-up felt superfluous, while calling attention to the fact it would have been a more effective episode had we not known how the SJ would unfold—that is, if the order of episodes had run 2-3-1 instead of 1-2-3.

Pitohui hooks Karen up with M, who seems way too into tactics and ways of killing, leading Karen to wonder who he really is IRL, and what form his relationship with Pitohui takes.

But rather than explore any of that, the M we meet here is bascially the same gruff, no-nonsense, yet still patient and affable lug we met in episode one. There’s nothing new gleaned here; he’s still a big mystery.

However, perhaps the most important goal of this episode wasn’t to establish the stakes of the SJ, but to pivot Karen from an IRL activity that wouldn’t have furthered her social skills (going to an Elsa concert with her old friend) to an activity that would (pairing up, training, and going into a battle royale with someone she just met).

Whatever GGO is to M, Pitohui and Karen are alike in that it’s an escape, and an opportunity to do things they simply cannot do IRL. Karen takes that further, intending to use her newfound freedom as a pink-clad chibi in GGO to change herself IRL, and to find a way to connect with people despite her great height and the anxiety towering over people causes.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 02

Our introduction to this new Fate world and story continues with a classic Shaft-type episode that is dense in conversation and exposition, but festooned with lavish trappings that befit a story of this scope. F/ELE (as I’ll be calling it for brevity’s sake) has a lot that is familiar to fans of Fate, fans of Shaft, and fans of both such as myself.

Indeed, the manner in which Kishinami Hakuno summons Saber when he is on death’s door is essentially a reversal of Araragi Koyomi’s first meeting and rescue of Kiss-Shot, another blonde of legendary status, in Kizumonogatari. And while Hakuno is so far a walking bag of virtues, this new-look Saber, voiced by all-star seiyu Tange Sakura, is a lot of fun to watch.

We also get a Nisemonogatari-esque bath scene, not just in any bath, but a sprawling, elaborate Roman-style mixed bath strewn with rose petals. It’s hardly a Shinbo production without such a bath, where a young man and a young woman talk business utterly unfazed by the fact they’re both stark nakked.

When they arrive at the first level, which Saber believes will be the first battlefield of the next Holy Grail War, she is surprised to find a bustling metropolis that, far from being ravaged by war, is united in celebration. At first Saber doesn’t mind this twist at all, and soaks it all in, and we learn that while Tange’s Cardcaptor Sakura says “ho’e,” her Saber says “umu.”

They visit an empty bar occupied by only one, somewhat suspicious woman with pink hair dressed as a bartender. When Saber presents herself as a foe and bids her chosen opponent defend herself, the lady scoffs; surely Saber jests. There is no Holy Grail War here, she says; the Masters have sold off their Servants to live in eternal happiness and peace; that’s what’s being celebrated.

Both Saber and Hakuno seem a bit disappointed by this news, but also somewhat skeptical. When seven splendidly uniformed policewomen arrive, surround the pair, and ask them to accompany them to the Mayor’s office, Saber may gush about how pretty they look, but just as with her outwardly carefree soaking in of the city, Saber is likely staying on her guard and gathering information as if there were a war in progress, which is as it should be.

As they’re escorted to the Central Tower and ride its super-fancy elevator to the top, Hakuno starts to remember some of what happened before he arrived here. Saber said his memory would start to return upon becoming a Master, and his vision of a pile of dead classmates serve to remind him of what had to be done to get this far.

However, the mayor—who turns out to be Matou Shinji, appearing before the pair as a hologram—would prefer if they go no farther. After waxing poetic about the benefits of the AI and NPC-rich Utopia he’s helped build (and performing the Shaft Head Tilt), he finally brings up the price of all this happiness. Citizenship requires all Masters to sell off their Servants.

Naturally, Hakuno refuses, and Shinji stops playing nice, reveally he had physically isolated Saber some time ago with his suite of high-tech digital smoke and mirrors, and sics not one or two but three nasty-looking Berserkers upon Saber. She seems to relish a fight at last, as I did, but at the same time she doesn’t seem that impressed by her foes.

Meanwhile, Shinji’s sexy police all stab Hakuno with their swords. For defying the order of things, the plan is to use Saber as a power source as other Servants have been used, and for Hakuno to simply die.

Only Hakuno didn’t get the right script, and refuses to let a few impalings bring him down. To his attackers’ shock, he pulls out their swords one by one and then seemingly powers-up/transforms, a phenomenon Toosaka Rin senses from the top of a building elsewhere in the city.

Rin calls it “Dead Face.” Whatever that is, it’s clear Hakuno isn’t there to celebrate, or live comfortably, or die. He is there to fight.

Classroom of the Elite – 02

I’m liking the uneasy rapport that has developed between Ayanokouji and Horitika; coincidence after coincidence brought them “together” in the opener, but they’ve consciously chosen to stay together, despite his surface apathy and her surface hostility—providing a nice contrast to Kushida’s saccharine affability.

Horitika isn’t interested in jumping up a level to Class C. She wants to be in Class A as soon as possible. If that means gathering a study group of the three most egregious misfits, so be it. She assigns Ayanokouji to the thankless task of gathering said misfits…and he immediately fails.

So he calls Kushida, who is all too happy to convince the three guys to attend the study group…if she can be in it as well. That caveat proves too repugnant to Horitika, who is awesomely resplendent in her text-and-voice-based petulance upon reacting to Ayanokouji’s method of completing the task she gave him.

Nevertheless, the group is assembled, with Kushida…and Horikita blows it up almost as quickly as Ayanokouji failed to assemble them in the first place. Unable to temper her aloof manner with people, and so focused on her goal of Class A, she doesn’t bother adapting to the various personalities she has to deal with, and so they all bail. She then accuses Kushida of “sabotage”, and Kushida runs off on the verge of tears.

And so, Ayanokouji finds himself with the contact info of not one but two comely lasses, and hasn’t the words, written or spoken, for either of them. So he goes out to the vending machines…and sees something he shouldn’t.

That something is the Student Council President verbally abusing his little sister…Horikita. Ayanokouji hears a tone of voice from his classmate he never had before, as she pleads for her brother to give her a chance…but all she is to the guy is a manifestation of shame; a black mark; a Class D sister.

Then he puts his hands on her and Ayanokouji has seen an heard enough, finally taking action by making use the strength Horikita noticed in his physique at poolside. He claims he acquired it and his fighting skills through “piano, calligraphy, tea ceremony”. It would be most impressive if that were true, but it’s clear he’s hiding something (We also learn he scored exactly 50 in all subjects on his entrance exam).

Like the first, this episode explored the theme announced in the episode title, a quote from some old dead guy, in this case, how “it takes a great talent and skill to conceal one’s talent and skill.” That certainly seems refer to our boy Ayanokouji as well as Kushida, who also comes off as someone holding their cards close.

As for Horikita, her natural tendency to keep people away, assuming they’ll hold her back, seems doomed to backfire on her every time. Just as the class had to come together to attain high enough scores to stave off expulsions for another week and possibly gain points back, Horikita will find more success on her path to Class A by learning to work with others, utilizing their hidden skills talents, and possibly discovering a few of her own in the process.

Classroom of the Elite – 01 (First Impressions)

As per a reader’s suggestion, I’ve decided to contribute to our Summer ’17 “reboot” by taking a look at a show I initially overlooked—Classroom of the Elite.

We follow Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, who has enrolled at the prestigious Tokyo Metropolitan Advanced Nurturing School, which sports a 100% college and employment placement rate. Aside from being built on reclaimed land in the bay, TMANS is a fully self-contained “high school city”, and its students given free reign and a generous monthly stipend of 100,000 yen-equivalent points ($903). It’s a neat and efficiently-explained system.

While cliques quickly form, Ayanokouji fails to make any friends, aside from the girl who insists on being friends with everyone (Kushida Kikyou) and the girl who is friends with no one by choice (Horikita Suzune). Thankfully there’s no onslaught of characters: these three are the focus, and rightly so.

Kushida, desperate to make friends with the last holdout, conspires with Ayanokouji to meet with Horikita at the school’s Starbucks. Horikita immediately suspects she’s been set up and storms off, while Kushida sticks around with Ayanokouji, and seems to think that Horikita and Ayanokouji are “close”, even though neither of them would charactarize it that way (aside from their physical proximity in the classroom).

Ayanokouji and Horikita have a lot in common. They use few words (he has trouble getting them out, she prefers not to talk), and both are reasonably thrifty, spending very little of their points over the first month. Meanwhile, all of their Class D classmates spend wildly and talk, goof off, and sleep in class regularly, conduct their teacher Chabashira doesn’t call them out for.

But one of the great things about this first episode is that while laying out this school system, there’s tension that builds amongst all the “debauchery” and carefree-ness. Like the other shoe is about to drop, and it’s going to be a doozy.

That other shoe…turns out to be the fact that monthly stipend is not 100,000 points. It’s just a starting number; henceforth students are judged by merit, and the next stipend determined accordingly; in this case, ZERO. Despite having done pretty well for themselves, our protagonists receive the same valuation as their slacker classmates.

At least they instinctively understood that the money and many temptations around them were all a test that most of the class failed. If they keep failing, they’ll go nowhere, so some serious shaping up is in order. That’s a hell of a hook, ensuring I’ll be back for the next episode.

GOD EATER – 04

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This week Lenka’s charges are suspended and he’s officially assigned to Fenrir East’s First Unit, along with Alisa and Fujiki “Wears a hat and scarf like he’s cold, but wears a crop top like he’s hot” Kouta. While Lenka’s look is pretty understadted, the other two’s elaborate outfits seem laughably impractical, especially considering singular mission they’ve been tasked with: Save The World.

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While Alisa wordlessly walks off when asked to join, Kouta drags Lenka out of HQ and into the slums where he grew up, including to meet his mom, who is very worried about him. They also check out the craters of destruction an aragami battle caused, watch food being distributed, and catch a glimpse of Aegis, mankind’s last best refuge, currently under construction.

The flashy new facility’s completion is dependent on the God Eaters securing the necessary amount aragami cores. The future of mankind rests with the likes of Lenka, Kouta, and Alisa. On them lies the future of mankind. Oh, by the way, DID I MENTION THE FUTURE OF MANKIND RESTS WITH THEM? Well, it does. “It” being…the future of mankind.

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You’d think those upon which something so important rests would be trained prior to going out in the field, or would be discouraged from cool-looking but reckless and unnecessary actions, or punished if they blatantly disobeyed orders from their superiors. The six-man unit splits into pairs to hunt down six cores of a specific type of aragami, but the mission is pretty rocky, as Alisa ignores orders from Sakuya, Kouta fails at his job, and Lenka can’t finish a foe off in one blow, which he needs to do if the future mankind is to rest upon him.

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So yeah, it’s a rough mission, but at least the flaws of the newly-formed unit are borne out in a relatively low-risk setting…right? They also come upon a group of wandering civilians and get to take them back to Fenrir. Lenka gets to see a sliver of the mankind whose future rests on him, including a cute little girl I knew was doomed.

My suspicion was confirmed when they get back to Fenrir and the civvies are turned back at the gate, because none of them possess the latent ability to wield a God Arc. Like the civilians on the aircraft carrier in World War Z, the only civvies who are able to live under the military’s protection are related to the ones doing fighting. It’s a raw but a practical, transactional one; at least more practical than Alisa and Kouta’s (and Sakuya’s) getup.

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Anyway, Lenka learns he’s not necessarily fighting for ALL mankind; just the part of it that’s able to properly contribute to the war effort. The rest are SOL. And we learn a tiny little bit about him: he’s the kind of guy who is upset about such things. When he gave that doomed little girl water, he was convinced she’d be safe within Fenrir’s walls. And fighting for Fenrir must feel like siding with the people who sent that girl to her almost certain death.

Mind you, most protagonists would have a problem with this, and would react by clenching their fists with rage and indignation. And that remains GOD EATER’S problem, after just four episodes in six weeks: for all the distinctiveness of their outfits, I still can’t be all that excited about any of the characters. All their personalities are some combination of nondescript, dull, obvious, and one-note.

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GOD EATER – 03

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GOD EATER follows up its slow, stretched-out, uninspired second episode with a big shot of adrenaline, as the entire third episode is one big aerial battle. It could also have been titled “Enter Underboob”, as after a couple of glimpses of her last week we finally see Alisa in her element (as opposed to sitting quietly on a plane) as a (mostly) efficient exterminator of Aragami.

The First Unit and Lenka in particular gawk from their helicopter as the one-woman army Alisa darts and jumps and repels about the giant transport plane. Not only does it get to show us the extent of her abilities (and her superiority to fellow new-type Lenka), but also the various tools at a new-type’s disposal. Alisa switches from sword to gun with ease, and when she tuns out of ammo, she simply uses her arc to devour an aragami and convert it into more ammo…which is a handy trick.

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When Lindow, Sakuya, and Lenka spot a gigantic swarm of fresh Aragami on the horizon, Lindow decides it’s time to grab Alisa and leave before they get there. It’s a practical and pragmatic call, considering Alisa’s importance to the war effort. But when Lenka jumps down to get her, Alisa pounces on him and proceeds to beat the everloving shit out of him. The message is clear: she’s not leaving the plane. Shortly thereafter we learn why, and see another side of Alisa: the plane is full of wounded survivors, and she won’t abandon them to save her own skin. She values their lives as much as her own (if not more).

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If Alisa won’t leave and they can’t make her, Lindow changes his orders: the four God Eaters will go all out in a defensive stand. They’ll either defeat all the Aragami after them and land safely at Fenrir east together, or they’ll die together.

We get a lot of badass shots of the team about to get to work, and then working. Lenka gradually gets the hang of his arc and is able to keep up with Alisa; while she had a head start I imagine his kill tally was comparable to hers when all was said and done. He even learns to devour.

There are also a lot of smooth moves, like Alisa and Lenka using both versions of their weapons to kill Aragami, or Lindow tossing one into Sakuya’s firing line so she can finish it off. Their flying battlefield, surrounded by sky on all sides, adds excitement and breathlessness to the proceedings.

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Speaking of breathless, how about that sunset, as seen from the plane’s cargo bay ramp? Or the shot of the absolutely massive Aragami taking the helicopter decoy bait, which definitely looks like a very very good thing to happen, as despite our heroes’ successes, there remain things well out of their league…at least for now.

So…why only an 8? Well, because GOD EATER is very one-dimensional. It’s hella cool and stylish and fun, but it’s ultimately empty calories: immediate satisfaction but no nutrition. The characters are very well-drawn and awesome looking, but there’s nothing below the surface. Alisa, like Lenka, is just another bland cipher we’ve seen a million times before (though Sakamoto Maaya does a good job voicing her).

And while I’m not really going to get into the hefty suspension of disbelief required to accept the physics of the battle (Are everyone’s shoes magnetic? Does no one need oxygen), it was pretty silly how last week the much faster fighter jets were immediately taken out by the Aragami, yet this week the helicopter was completely ignored. GOD EATER remains great fun and this was a far better episode than last week’s, but its core flaws remain, which can’t be ignored.

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Durarara!! x2 Shou – 02

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To say ‘too much is going on’ in Durarara!! doesn’t adequately express why it frustrates me, nor is it entirely accurate.

In fact, there are several sequences during Durarara!!’s second episode where the story flows nicely and we experience the new characters, learn their lovely quirks, guess at their inner mysteries, and the story moves forward through their interaction.

So why am I dropping Durarara!! this week?

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Summing it up: Sexy/Psycho Twins Orihara and Kuru Mairu, and Dollars-fan/member Kuronuma Aoba “Wakaba Mark” are the newest additions to Mikado’s school. Each twin is bullied initially but quickly DESTROYS the opposition through brute force or fire. Kuronuma, on the other hand, has his eyes on Mikado, who he’s rightfully identified as a Dollar — a top brass Dollar.

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Kuronuma convinces Mikado to give him a tour of Ikebukuro, Mikado convinces the otaku duo of Erika and Walker to help (because he doesn’t even know it that well) and all is going very well, except a tall and intimidatingly evil American guy sets off Anri-chan’s spidey-senses as he passes her karaoke booth, there’s a zombie fight in a park, the twins find Celty’s money, the tall guy is gravely injured and asks if the twins can take him to the Russian Sushi place, and a million other things happen.

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What irritated the hell out of me: was this episode is half of what I really want Durarara!! to be. The moments with the twins and Aoba were great. The moments with Aoba, Mikado, and then Mikado and the Otakus too.

But the everything else part was a total drag. Shinra’s Dad, forced and awkward backstory explanation, and Shinra being stuck in a sphere continually dragged us away from the new moments and broke any attachment as soon as I was making it.

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However, the biggest issue was Shinra and his inexplicable break through the fourth wall. Not only is Shinra a less interesting character than most, not only should he not know any of the scenes he’s ‘setting up,’ the very fact that he stares into the ‘camera’ and narrates multiple time frames to us is absurd.

It completely rips the viewer out of the experience, which destroys all of Durarara!!’s wonderful world-building.

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Verdict: This is the Fate/stay night of winter season. It has unquestionably stupendous production value, a great world, and many interesting characters, including a zombie.

Sadly, a bloated, shambling corpse wandering around in a confused haze is the most appropriate metaphor I can think of for Durarara!! x2. I used to love it, and I still enjoy the moments where my chainsaw and it’s flesh meet and I get clarity.

But there’s no gleam in its dead eyes. It’s dead and it’s on me to put it down now…

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Hannah’s Take

I don’t have a lot to say that differs greatly from Franklin’s take, but I will say I am going to continue to watch and review the show on my own, despite two episodes that filled me with glee on some points greatly disappointed on others.

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I agree that Shinra and his family simply didn’t deserve as much time as the show dedicated to them, and in both episodes they kind of drag everything down. I was about as mad as Frank that we got so much good content about Izaya’s awesome twins (Kitamura Eri and Hanemoto Kisato are money), who might have stolen the show if Shinra hadn’t already hijacked it with his overly-omniscient narration.

Don’t get me wrong; I actually like the mischievous Shinra. Many of the show’s more tender moments have been between him and his supernatural love interest. But the (over)use of him here doesn’t serve him, it doesn’t serve the show, and it didn’t serve me in quite the way I expected.

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In past episodes, I’ve even enjoyed the slight whiplash one gets by the sudden shifts in time, but in all those cases it was handled more cleverly. It felt more like a forced gimmick this week.

That aside, I will be staying aboard the Durarara!! train to see where it takes us next. Aoba and the twins are a most welcome addition, though the preview indicates the guy they both idolize—Shizuo’s celebrity brother Kasuka—will be next week’s focus.

UPDATE: I re-watched the episode and liked it a lot more, hence my uptick in rating below.

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Durarara!! x2 Shou – 01 (First Impressions)

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[Rubs hands together vigorously]…Alright, here we go! Durarara!! is back, people. And because it was a show that interested both Franklin and myself, we’ll be trading off the review duties weekly. I’m first, so I’ll write a slightly longer review up here, and Frank will include his shorter take. Next week we swap places.

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This episode’s title borrows the familiar adage “A picture is worth a thousand words”, though I’ve tried not to write a thousand words about it. We certainly got a thousand pictures, which works out to a million words. But in his bookend appearances, Mikado needs only nine to say it best: “half a year later, nothing about us has changed.”

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Sure lots has happened, and some people have grown closer or drifted further apart, but some haven’t moved at all, and nor has most of the town. For a show that I haven’t watched in three years, I appreciated being eased back into the thick of this milieu by mirroring the first season’s opening episode, which also had a non-linear timeline and an almost unsettling amount of stuff going on. Dare I call it…a breathless yet oddly comforting barrage of characters and situations. We’re home, where life has gone on much as it had, and it’s good to see everyone’s well.

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In the first season, I was, like Mikado, a yokel in the middle of a giant city teeming with life and things I’ve never seen or experienced before. Now, Mikado and I are initiated in this tangled, engrossing network (albeit separated by a few years) and less overwhelmed by the onslaught of yelling TVs and murders and car chases and scheming in apartments and scientific research and everything else.

We get a taste of just about everything, but no full portions yet. It’s not unlike my first trip to Tokyo, which I took in between Durarara!!’s first and second cours (and in part because of them), and hummed the show’s various musical themes as I walked the real-world version of the streets these characters walk. I only had a week, so I didn’t see a fraction of what I wanted to, but it was a good introduction to the place and its possibilities. This introductory episode does the same hing.

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I like how Mikado and Anri simply top and watch Celty race past them on her trusty horsecycle and things slow down and we get the same deep mythical music theme as when he saw her for the first time so long ago. It’s a nice reminder of just how strange and mysterious and bizarre an entity Celty is. And yet, she’s also a sympathetic victim of profiling!

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Mikado isn’t quite right about “nothing about us has changed,” because the last time he watched Celty go by like that, he was with his good friend Kida, who was ultimately the reason he ended up in Ikebukuro. Mikado has no idea where he is or what’s become of Kida, but we see he seems to have settled into a laid-back blissful domestic existence with his cute girlfriend Saki; connected to everyone else through the shared experience of that TV with its hyperactive news coverage.

Saki’s “Aren’t you going to watch?” right after Mikado narrates that “nothing has changed” is as much a challenge to the audience as a question to Kida. Not surprisingly, Mikado follows that with the qualifier “…I don’t think.” This was an exciting, if at times dizzying and indulgent, re-introduction that showed both how little and how much has changed in its world, and teased lots of seemingly disperate scenarios that are sure to gradually connect in strange and interesting ways moving forward.

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Stray Observations:

  • Kyouhei name-drops Index, Walker and Erika bring up SAO and Black Bullet, and Miyuki from Mahouka is slapped on the van now. Ironically, it’s the otakus in an anime, who seem the most attuned to the real world.
  • This show loves to mix up how people communicate, best represented by Celty showing her texts to Shingen, who is talking to her through a tablet.
  • The line below made me giggle. This guy’s Japanese is way better than his English!

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Oigakkosan’s Take:

Creating a sequel is difficult work and creators always run the risk an over reliance on cameo and nostalgia to please the fans. In complicated terms, Durarara!! 2 can come off this way: we ‘check in’ with nearly every character of the original series and get brief ‘synopsis’ moments to remind us of their personalities and relationships within the setting.

However, we also get roughly equal screen time for characters, and newly upgraded side characters — and despite the range in ‘volume’ each personality brings to the screen, every character (or at least every scene) is equally loud, detail filled, and attention drawing.

Unfortunately, I found the result was so evenly baked that I found no emotional core to latch on to.

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Certainly, all the characters I loved before are here and the murder plot and emphasis on the entertainment industry being everywhere will give them things to do. However, the mystery of how our cast will respond to these new developments pales in comparison to the mystery of who our cast was and what their motivations were in the original series.

In simple terms, this is what turned me off all the way through the episode. None of the new characters are a mystery. Shrina’s Stepmom? The television executive? Explained in seconds and, frankly, dull to boot.

In all fairness, Durarara!! 2 earned a lot of goodwill last time around and this version still looks and sounds great. However, as Chuu2Koi Ren proved last year, just doing something again, even with grand production values, can fall very very flat.

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