Chou Shounen Tanteidan Neo – 02

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The Gist: Inoua and Noro join the club, rounding out the generic Leader, Girl, Muscle and Brains slots of the group. Meanwhile, their mentor has a nightmare that his shadow murders him and then commits suicide, which leads into un-approved security upgrades to their rented building space and a quick escape by helicopter-backpack from the landlady, who doesn’t speak but may or may not be pissed.

Later, 20 Faces puts a plan into action via a hologram emitting party invite. The club doesn’t really fall for the ploy and 20 masks is further undermined by not knowing how to turn off the projected image.

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The Verdict: I imagine these style could be enjoyable if you were high. Paying attention or understanding what is going is optional. It’s all about a atmosphere and it succeeds for the most part. I smirked and chuckled with its effective use of timing and I found the colors and shapes pleasant.

But I’m not a stoner and the wandering nature of the show isn’t going to hold my attention forever. Not as a reviewer anyhow…

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Chou Shounen Tanteidan Neo – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: Neo is a short format kids humor show, vaguely in the vein of the original Power Puff Girls. Neo features a club of young detectives and a mentor, who has a criminal mastermind nemesis. It’s set in a pleasant scifi future world, but the imagery and gadgets is stylized enough that the setting doesn’t really matter.

There is a plot, both for individual episodes and across the season’s arc, but it does not feel especially important. This time around, a cockroach interrupts the cast reading a 100 year old newspaper, followed by a gun fight with the cockroach who isn’t as indestructible as he thinks. Later, we learn he was an agent for the villain.

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The Verdict: CSTN’s style is quite pleasant, possibly even unique with the insertion of classic illustrations amidst the hyper simplified shapes of the characters and environments. The character expressions are wonderful too, in an unexpectedly abstract way.

Less engaging is the story, humor and characters themselves. Despite being quick and full of frantic animation, not much happened in the story and the humor is child-friendly, in a safe way not meant for me as an audience. I would suggest this for younger audiences, except we live in a post Adventure Time world, and Neo has nothing approaching that level of thoughtful structure and dynamic characters.

Over all, I think I like it but I’m not sure if I will stick with it for an entire season. Depends on how quickly I tire of its opening theme, which is, for now, a delightfully 8-bit jingle. It reminds me of playing Sonic the Hedgehog on a Saturday afternoon all those years ago…

What an odd sensation?

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Nobunaga no Shinobi – 01 (First Impressions)

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Nobunaga no Shinobi is, literally, a short format anime about Nobunaga’s 2 young ninjas Chidori and Sukezo. Chidori is a sweet but no nonsense murder machine and I keeping Sukezo’s name wrong. (but he’s really just Chidori’s unrequited love uninterest)

The first episode introduces the various characters and has a few smirk-worthy jokes. The pacing and art are decent but unremarkable, but the lack of content truly makes it hard to rate.

I suspect this show will lean towards the ‘a single 24 episode show diced up into 3 minute chunks and spread across a season’ side of the short format genre. Liking it or not will depend on your patience and/or how well the dialog gets you to chuckle.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 12

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The Gist: Tsumugi and Kouhei grab dinner at an okonomiyaki restaurant but it goes completely sideways when Tsumugi’s expectations are not met. To patch up their hurt feelings, Kouhei sets up an okonomiyaki date with Kotori, who brings all of the major characters together in one big event.

Megumi, Kotori’s mother, finally meets Kouhei (and Yoki, who’s a big fan of her on TV but she totally doesn’t notice he’s there) and there are hints of a potential romance or, at least, friendship between the single parents. However, the episode closes without anything concrete being in place beyond a happy time shared by two teens, 3 adults, and a small child.

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The Verdict: another solid, emotionally nuanced episode under the belt, another recipe we could theoretically reproduce, and some parenting lessons we could consider. Finally bringing the cast together, and the possibility of a long term plot goal between the adults, is a long step closer to earning a perfect ten.

But this week didn’t cross that line yet. All the ingredients are nearly perfect — from charm to specific behaviors and effective rendering and framing. But only nearly perfect, due to a very consistent (but not especially wow) color pallet and no official overall arc.

We’re in the final run of the show and the question remains: what will the payoff be? Are we past the point where a twist can work? Will a romantic pairing feel tacked on? Or will the lack of a long term goal lock AtI in as a solid 9 that didn’t totally become excellent?

Next week will tell

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Amaama to Inazuma – 11

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The Gist: Tsumugi has a fight with Hana-chan (over wearing the same costume at the class play) and Kotori is asked to choose a recipe to make the class’ crepe recepe stand out amongst all the classes doing crepes at the cultural festival.

So our intrepid quartette has a crepe tasting party. Then Kohei makes a Mr Pig costume. Then everyone eats tasty crepes. Then everyone is happy again. Roll credits…

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The Verdict: the episode functions perfectly well. Everything is sweet, the art is varied, and the kid-stuff is on the mark. However… nothing really stands out compared to AtI’s high points?

As a paint-by-AtI numbers episode, that means it’s still an excellent episode. If it weren’t for the mild growth of Kotori’s class, where they actively engage her now (breaking her out of her food bubble) the arc could have felt throw away. Thankfully, that little evolution kept things fresh.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 10

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The Gist: Tsumugi goes to the beech but has a string of outbursts and devolves into a kitty-girl. This lets her process a freshly caught fish being gutted and prepared for food as well as some other social anxiety.

And that fresh fish to meal is the central point that brings the entire cast together at the restaurant. Shinobu’s enthusiasm and flexibility with children keeps Tsumugi engaged and comfortable, Yagi’s grounded nature moves the meal along and gives Kouhei an actual adult to interact with, and Kotori mistresses the recipes and acts as host.

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“It’s scary and fun and amazing!” Tsumugi after the fish is cleaned in front of her.

What really makes this episode shine is how simple and approachable its central conflict is, and how specific and precious its young protagonist reacts to it. Fish are among the few creatures she could experience as alive, then dead, then food and anxiety from that is very understandable. Extra understandable for a child who’s lost a parent at a very young age.

Tsumugi’s focus on the fish’s eye and her use of ‘I’m a Kitty so I can’t be scared’ to be brave enough to witness preparation were excellent touches. And let’s not forget that AtI is also a cooking show at heart, with a lengthy process you could probably follow at home to experience the meal too.

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The Verdict: the only thing holding AtI back from a perfect ten is a lack of long term plot. I get the sense that, as excellent as this all is, as much as the characters have grown and fleshed out on screen, the story doesn’t have a goal in mind. No central drama beyond life being lived.

This is certainly not a fault or wrong per-see. However, it does force the show into an episodic structure, which makes the formula more obvious and limits each episode’s ability to shine on its own.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 09

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The Gist: Tsumugi and her class have a summer break sleepover, where they spend the night at school, make curry and play with fireworks. Tsumugi even gets to chop some vegetables — with a kid’s knife.

From the boys crying, to the girls using more proper language and talking about the different kinds of curry they know, it’s a lovely scene that expands on the various children’s personalities and relationships.

The scene where Kouhei is at home alone, which is almost completely without dialog, is also masterful. As often is the case, Amaama to Inazuma can express a broad emotional range without using spoken words.

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Later, Kouhei finds his wife’s cook book where they used to keep spices (a place he never thought to look) and he and Kotori plan to make dry curry. Tsumugi even gets to cut the vegetables herself… with supervision and Kotori about to pass out from anxiety!

While the meal-making includes a lovely Tsumugi dance, this time about bubbles boiling, the real emotional power emerges after the meal, when Father and Child come to terms with Mother/Wife never coming back. Kouhei makes the special food now and, even though it is wonderful, even though it is the way mother used to make it, her death is all the more permanent now.

I love that Tsumugi bashes his chin with her forehead repeatedly while crying about this point. It’s painfully accurate to how a child responds, in my experience.

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The Verdict: this was a masterful episode. It plays with scale of characters, silence, and emotional expectations. Joy as sadness. Sadness as joy. Being together but feeling alone and, of course, the bubble dance.

It also shook up AtI’s somewhat predictable visual range with the bright night pallet of the sparklers and seeing Yoki’s bar. I had not realized how in a rut AtI’s sticking with the Kindergarten, the High School, the Restaurant and the Apartment was getting until I saw these 2 new color arrangements –and now I hope we see more in the remaining episodes!

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Amaama to Inazuma – 08

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The Gist: It’s parent visit day at Tsmugi’s kindergarten and that means we get a healthy does of cast development and relationship refinement! If it wasn’t already obvious, Mikio has a total crush on Tsmugi, who pleasantly wants nothing to do with his affections.

What was less obvious was how central Tsmugi is to the class’ social construct: when Mikio has to poop, her reassurance that she will wait for him maneuvers the entire class into happily supporting him and in his time of need.

Later, Tsmugi Kohei and Kotori cook squid. Tsmugi gets another dance session in and it is adorable.

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The Verdict: AtI is at its strongest when it treats its child stars most specifically and this week, where a lot of time is spent in their class room, captured many gems. Other details, like how Kohei holds Tsmugi up on his knees while talking about recipes, and the social interactions of the parents all feel believable.

But what really elevates this week above others is how much of Kohei’s observation and thought process is expressed to us as viewers without words. He doesn’t know how to balance putting himself in Tsmugi’s life without replacing the little treasures she has kept from her dead mother and watching him think, fail, and try again is fascinating. Top notch!

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Amaama to Inazuma – 07

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The Gist: after months of little sleep, Kouhei is finally down for the count! Worried but armed with street smarts only a bright 6 year old can muster, Tsumugi leaves their apartment and makes her way to the restaurant.

Unfortunately, Kouhei is not especially happy with her brave success and, after finding her with Kotori, loses his temper. It takes some time but all returns to normal after a meal and understanding.

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The Verdict: this week was a return to top form for AtI. It absolutely nailed the imagination and problem solving of a young child and it did so with tremendous charm. Tsumugi’s shark song was pure joy to watch!

This week also nailed the absolute terror a parent feels when their child has disappeared, and the back and forth conflict that ensues when that child doesn’t understand the danger or anger for their ‘good deed.’ Smeary tear face tantrum and all.

As my fellow reviewers would say, this had all the feels.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 06

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The Gist: after a few missteps, the entire cast finally ends up in the restaurant together for a fun meal. Even Yagi, who just sort of appears via an invitation from Tsmugi.

This time they are making Gyoza and preparing the meal brings AtI’s typical charms. However, Yagi and Shinobu bring significantly more skill to the table. Shinobu notices this and, after a chat with Kotori, decides she’ll stay out of their fun for the most part. The experience is, after all, as much about these 3 damaged people having a family moment, as it is about the food itself.

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The Verdict: at its worst, AtI is heart meltingly charming with a recipe-a-weekas a do it yourself bonus. But at it’s best, it captures the intricate emotions and nuances that separate us by age and experience with a masterful hand.

While we got to see a little more of Kotori’s inner workings, and the understanding Shinobu can muster as a psudo-mother herself, but this episode played it safe, as the majority of episodes have. Thank goodness heartwarming is good enough!

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Amaama to Inazuma – 06 (Error Edition)

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The Verdict: it took me an embarrassingly long moment to realize my copy of this week’s episode carried the subtitle track of this week’s Re:Zero — and was not actually making a pop culture reference in real time.

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So I actually don’t really know what happened this week. At least, not in a way that wasn’t hilariously funny in a totally unintended way…

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Alderamin on the Sky – 05

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I’m on the older side, so as I watched the magnificent origin of the relationship of young Yatori and Ikta unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Captain Picard and Guinan (I also thought of Muppet Babies, for what it’s worth). In addition to the fact that TNG had an Oscar-winning actress on TV before it was cool, one of the great big unanswered questions of the show was the history of those two.

All Guinan said to Riker when Picard was captured by the Borg was that what they had was “beyond friendship, beyond family.” That sums up Yatori and Ikta perfectly. One was raised from birth to be a knight, which is no different from a blade. The other was raised into a world of science and deep, distant thought about mysteries once left to the comfort of theology.

Yatori decides to study abroad with Ikta as his father Sankrei was a celebrated military mind whom she sought for enrichment. What she got was a lifetime companion who not only made her more whole, but whom she made more whole as well.

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Japanese can be at times wonderfully onomatopoeiaic, as I was reminded when Ikta conveys how “stiff” Yatori speaks, even to a fellow kid like him. But throughout their early interactions, Ikta never tries to impose his will or philosophy upon Yatori; instead, he shows her parts of her world and levies suggestions on how she might become something more than the Igsem blade she was forged to be.

A sword, after all, is only an inanimate object; no mater how much intense training Yatori undergoes, she cannot deny her flesh, her blood, and the emotions all humans possess. Indeed, Yatori is as much a sponge as a blade, benefiting greatly from her exposure to Ikta, his father, and the scientists associated with them. She also learns to play, which for Ikta means outsmarting adults.

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It’s really quite invigorating to see these two at an early age right after seeing Ikta bring Yatori down from her killing fever last week. This episode painstakingly explains the bond these two share not with idle exposition, but by telling a story in its own right; a story of two very bright and talented kids bouncing off one another.

Just as Yatori had never met a kid quite like Ikta (nor met any kid period, for that matter), Ikta had never come across such a stern, stiff, duty-obsessed girl. It’s refreshing how quickly they hit it off despite their profound differences in upbringing.

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Their bond is formalized quite by chance, when the adults they followed to a remote locale for a geological survey forgot their gear and turned back to retrieve it. Yatori and Ikta end up on their own, up against a pack of starving wolves, who are treated by the show with the same respect one would show a group of starving people.

Yatori and Ikta have no quarrel with the wolves, but they cannot allow themselves to be killed and eaten for the sake of the wolves. They are meant for greater things. I love how Ikta calls out for Yatori when the first wolf corners him, and Yatori comes through like the knight she is.

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But this is not simply a tale of Ikta coming up with a game plan and Yatori carrying it out. It isn’t simply the knight saving the damsel in distress (who is Ikta in this case). Rather, when the desperate wolves infiltrate the house, and Ikta and Yatori must retreat to a smaller space ton ponder their next move, Ikta rejects Yatori’s pre-programmed intent to protect him at the cost of her own life.

That won’t do at all! For Ikta, any outcome where one of them dies is no good. Chivalric training aside, he rejects the notion that Yatori must lay down her life so that he might live. Having met and gotten to know Yatori, Ikta knows she can be more than a blade.

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So he proposes they look at it another way: she is not the hero and he the recipient of heroism: they are together the right and left hand of a single entity, one far smarter and stronger than either of them alone.

Yatori, still young and relatively impressionable (as well as quite a smart cookie in her own right) can pick up what Ikta is putting down. They work together to outsmart and defeat the remaining wolves, forcing the survivors to retreat.

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In the process, they burn down the whole damn house, and eat what’s left of the dried meat they have on hand. Yatori says it feels like they’re eating the wolves’ meat, which for Ikta is definitive proof that she can, indeed, be more than just a blade.

Not long after that unforgettable, life-changing experience, Ikta and Sankrei go missing…but one day Ikta returns, and Yatori is happy, for it is neither her brother nor her lover nor her dear friend who has returned to her: it is her other hand.

The best part of Alderamin is Yatori and Ikta’s relationship. I’ve said it before, and this episode went and capitalized on that strength, with exceptional results.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 05

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The Gist: Kotori sees Tsumugi walking around with a strange blond man. She follows them to a park and watches them share snacks until it looks like the blond man is offering Tsumugi a cigarette. Fortunately, Kouhei arrives and sets things straight.

Yagi is a high school friend who watches Tsumugi during lunch. He’s gruff but knows how to have a good time and that’s important to Kouhei, since he considers himself and overly safe roll model. Kotori, who obviously has a hooooudge crush on her sensei, objects but it is what it is…

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“I’m super aggro now, you know.”

The rest of the episode is about making donuts.

No! There really isn’t much to say beyond that! If you’ve seen any AtI you know exactly how it would handle the recipe and character interactions.

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The Verdict: this was a cute one, with charm and some humor — and of course instructive cooking! That said, I don’t feel like we learned anything new about the characters, nor was there anything especially insightful about children in play.

It was what it was: enjoyable, pleasant to the core, and now I know how to make Japanese Donuts. Spoilers! It takes way longer than how we make them here.

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