Log Horizon – 02

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With little else for players to do to stay occupied, PKs (player killings) are on the upswing, and security situation in cities is tenuous. Shiroe, Akatsuki and Naotsugu engage a party of PKs, exploiting the holes in their teamwork to emerge victorious. Shiroe gets a call from the Crescent Moon Alliance, asking if he’d look after the guild hall while they’re away rescuing their comrade, Celara. With Akatsuki and Naotsugu’s support, Shiroe makes a counter-proposal: the three of them will head north to Susukino to rescue her instead.

We’ve decided not to drop Strike the Blood or Log Horizon for now, but we’ll only be reviewing episodes as gaps in our schedule allow, so we probably won’t be johnny-on-the-spot with either.

In Sword Art Online, if you were KO’ed in the game, you died in the real world, but here in Elder Tale, you merely re-spawn at the cathedral of the nearest town, which is a lot less …final. But while the threat of oblivion is off the table, this presents a different quandary: endowed with virtual immortality and all the weak enemies needed to harvest enough gold to live off of, what exactly are 30,000 immortal players going to do with themselves? The answer becomes clear this week: prey on each other for kicks.

Shiroe’s trio proves more than up to the task of dispatching upstart PKers. Their battle was relatively interesting, but the foes were a bit too stupid, the animation was underwhelming, and most importantly, Shiroe’s constant explanation of everything going on kinda kills the urgency. The trio finds something to do, and the Shiroe/Akatsuki romance is at a nice, gentle simmer. But so far show is relying too much on telling, not showing, which needs to change.


Rating: 6 (Good)

 

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Hanasaku Iroha 26 (Fin)

The Bonbori festival is a magical evening when people all over the prefecture converge and bring fresh vitality to Yusonagi. Everyone strings up their wish planks, all of them reinforcing their character arcs. Ohana wishes to be like her grandmother, Sui, who herself believes she should “fest it up” more often as Ohana does. Ohana seeks out Ko and finally confesses to him. Beanman announces his retirement. Enishi, realizing he has a lot to learn about running an inn, agrees with his mother to close Kissuiso, but only temporarily, so that he can train.

The staff pledges to return to work there when it reopens, and can live up to its name of “A place to make Sui happy.” Ko wants to “find his place” as he sees Ohana has, and if it’s the same place of her, all the better. Minko dreams to be Kissuiso’s next chef. Sui gives us one last tour of the inn where dreams are born. The series finishes with a montage of the staff in their new places, and in Ohana’s case, back in Tokyo with her mom and Ko.

It’s been a hell of a ride, with its share of bumps, but IMO Hanasaku Iroha couldn’t have had a better finale. It ties up all the loose ends, doesn’t cheat by keeping everything the same, gives everyone a solid goodbye and dream to follow, and, of course, Ohana gets the guy by finally speaking up. Even better, she gets that out of the way in the first minutes, before the suspense grows excessive, and moves on to other things. Just about everything worked here, from the utterly gorgeous visuals to the not-too-cheesy soundtrack.

I really liked Angel Beats!, but I think I have to consider this P.A. Works’ finesst work yet, which is encouraging, because it’s also their latest, and I can’t wait to watch their next one. After AnoHana wrapped, this has been the series with the most involving, likeable, fun-to-watch characters, as well as the prettiest setting and some of the best animation values. The inn itself was a character, and given no less fitting a sendoff. When it was populated, it was hard to sit back and admire just how beautiful a building it is, inside and out. I’m glad that the series was able to take its time and say a decent goodbye that left me wanting for nothing.



Rating: 4 ~series elevated to favorites ~

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Ohana and Ko all but confess, and he agrees to come to the climactic Bonbori festival. The manager insist that Kissuiso will close for good after the Bonbori festival, despite a glowing review by her daughter which nets the inn gobs of business and the fact that everyone loves the inn and wants to stay. Enishi stages a coup in order to keep the inn open, leaving Ohana split between family and friends.

A little of everything this week, and all of it good. Ohana and Ko finally talk about their feelings, but rather than taking up most of the episode as I expected, it’s just the appetizer. With Sui intending to close the inn, some are starting to look at future employment, but then Satsuki puts Kissuiso on the front cover of her travel magazine, and suddenly it looks like they can make it work. Thus this becomes a battle of wills, between Sui, who doesn’t want anyone else sacrificed for her and her husband’s dreams, and everyone else, who want to keep the inn open and running anyway.

I can feel for Sui, but ultimately I’m on the side of Enishi and everyone else. Sui may be old and wise, but she isn’t infallible, and she isn’t a god. Her pride is blinding her to the arrogance of thinking she can protect the fate of others when in reality, her actions threaten to crush dreams and change fates she has no business changing. Whatever Kissuiso was, it is more than just her and her late husband’s dream. With all this seriousness going on, there were also moments of comedy, like Tohru and Minko disocvering their favorite manga was written by none other than Jiromaru, and Sui’s ridiculously quick and efficient bath.


Rating: 4

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The inn has an ill-favored mood as it’s likely it will be shut down. Takako is off to Tokyo to track down the producer who duped Enishi and the inn, as she plans to take over as madam manager. Ohana (now her niece) tags along, both to discuss her future with her mom and to possibly see Ko again. But her mom has already ‘kidnapped’ Ko. After spending the day together talking about Ohana, she plays the test footage for him, reignting his hope just when he was about to give up on her. The two then meet by chance on an overhead crossing.

“Never give up,” Takako says in her characteristic Engrish. That sentiment pertains not only to her goal to save Kissuiso, but to Ohana and Ko’s distance-strained relationship as well. Takako somehow finds one man among millions and gives him a judo throw…by not giving up. Whether she’ll get the money the inn lost back or not, she’s restored honor. Meanwhile, Ohana’s mom, while a bit nosy and manipulative here, has her heart in the right place, setting Ko straight vis-a-vis Ohana.

Ohana abandoned Ko when her mother abandoned her, but she never went to Yusonagi to learn to be a waitress, or fulfill her calling. She wouldn’t have gone at all if her mom hadn’t acted like a spoiled, impulsive child and run off with some random guy. So in a way, what Ohana’s mom does is amends of a kind. Now that Ko understands a little more, he and Ohana can proceed accordingly. But considering the manager needs Ohana back in two days (two episodes?), Ohana will have to be quick about it.


Rating: 3.5

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Now we’re getting somewhere! Well, kinda. Peace, understandings, and declarations are all either made or starting to be made. Not since the first week of the series last season has so much stuff been packed into an episode. I got that same feeling like it was three-quarters over when in reality it wasn’t even half-over. That makes me optimistic about this series ending as strongly as it started; perhaps even better.

It’s still to early to be sure of this, but as I said, I’m optimistic. Thanks to advice from her mother (who didn’t know she was giving it), Ohana has decided that a one-sided crush is okay vis-a-vis Ko (whom we’ve neither seen nor heard from all summer), and that she’ll confess to him next time she sees him. Minko and Ohana are at each others’ throats once more, but when Nako breaks them up, Tohru is seen to have been standing there, hearing everything.

At last, the air is cleared, as Tohru finds Minko crying by a shrine and they finally talk to each other about something other than cooking or Ohana. It’s just what Minko needs to keep going, and it helps Tohru not only realize how much he means to Minko, but also the source of her distractions. He brings her back on board the wedding food. Minko and Ohana finally call a truce, as they realize they aren’t even going after the same guy anymore (and never were), and both need to be more direct where their crushes are concerned.

After all that, there’s a whole wedding to be had! And having been to my older brother’s wedding earlier this year (and a damn fine wedding it was), it was a lot of fun to watch it unfold just as it had been to watch it be prepared. It goes off without a hitch, and even the manager is humbled and impressed by what everyone managed to do without her help or direction. She decided to kill two birds with one stone: marry off her son, and put everyone to the test in seeing how they’d fare with her merely observing. They paseed. Now Ohana has four episodes (barring an OVA or film), to make things right with Ko. Fingers crossed…


Rating: 4

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With this episode, the first half of the 26-episode run of Hanasaku Iroha comes to a strong close. And even though [C] ranked slightly higher this season, I consider this my second-favorite of the season, after runaway best, AnoHana. What’s more, I’m actually looking forward to the second half. This series has staying power.

Unlike those two 11-episode series, Hanasaku Iroha really is one of those series that benefits from being stretched out. It’s chock full of great characters, great atmosphere, and great slice-of-life…and has looked consistently awesome. I haven’t seen True Tears, and Canaan was underwhelming, but going forward this definitely could give my standing favorite P.A. Works piece, Angel Beats!, a run for its money.

This week was a family reunion of sorts, as the prodigal daughter Satsuki returns as per Ohana’s request. The horror stories of her little brother Enishi, who stayed by his mom’s side in the business, are really nicely depicted. Satsuki, for her part, has the typical gripes about the place and her mother not having changed a bit. But she isn’t just there to criticize; in fact, she invites her daughter and mother to her room and the three generations of Shijimas have a nice heart-to-heart-to-heart.

During this, a tossed(?) Ohana spills the beans about Ko; her mom and granny both think she’s giving up too easily; but this isn’t the only family reunion that took place. The other was Ohana returning to her family at Kissuiso; her friends Nako and Minko are like sisters to her, and she’s come to love the inn and everyone she works with. This is her life now; a life in Tokyo with Ko just wasn’t in the cards. Of course, this is her mom’s fault for shipping her here in the first place, but what happened happened, something good came out of it, and Ohana is staying put. She misses Ko, but she’s where she wants to be. Rating: 4

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After a phenomenal start and a rather less inspiring middle, the final third of this first season of Hanasaku Iroha is really ‘festing it up’, to borrow a phrase from Ohana. This week picks up where we left off; Ohana plucked off the street by Tohru and Minko. They spend the night in a hotel room, Tohru and Ohana have a late-night chat about Ko, which Minko listens in on. The next morning, Ohana wants them to help her kidnap her mother. Tohru agrees, but only if they bring Ko too.

Before that though, Tohru takes Minko on a dizzying culinary tour of Tokyo and makes her eat way too much. At times she considers this a date, but the fact of the matter is, Tohru may just be doing it to get her acquainted with famous tastes, without an ulterior motive. As Ohana said last night, he is kind, but his manner with women leaves too much to said womens’ imaginations. I feel pretty bad for Minko, since she (and we) know for sure that a part of him likes Ohana, but he won’t make a move. That said, Minko could be a little more forward with him regarding her feelings.

While in Tokyo, Ohana learns that she’s been acting selfishly, without regard to anyone else’s thoughts or motives. This is hammered home for her when Ko tells her he went to visit her but came up empty. This episode marked an even lower mark than was reached last week as far as their future together is concerned. They may both like each other, but they remain firmly lodged in a holding pattern, at best, while both of them have other potentials (Tohru in Ohana’s case; Igarashi in Ko’s). This is probably it for their story, until next season.

I was as surprised as Ohana when her mother had packed to come back with them to Kissuiso. Something finally clicked in her; perhaps the same thing that clicked in Ohana. At times, both of them play the villain in the lives of others (“Deferring her answer for a later time” is pretty villainous). Ohana had so much to yell at her mom for, but chose her bad review of the inn. When she heard the indignation in Ohana’s voice, it reminded her of the arguments she once had with her mother. Now for good or ill, there’s going to be a family reunion. Rating: 4

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Sure, there was a little bit of coincidence in this episode, but I still enjoyed how Ohana’s mission to “Fest it up” with the author of a bad review of Kissuiso turned into a bit of a review of her life so far. She returns to Tokyo, and it turns out her mother wrote it (one coincidence), without even visiting, because a superior told her to. Ohana’s reunion with both her mother and with Ko don’t go well, and by the end, she nearly has a breakdown, when just at the last minute, the van from Kissuiso shows up to ‘rescue’ her (another coincidence).

Never mind how they managed to track her down on the streets of the biggest metropolis in the world, or the fact her mother wrote the scathing staged review – I liked this episode. It was great to get out of the inn and the small town setting and return to Tokyo, if only for an episode. It led me to renew my hate of Ohana’s frankly awful, self-absorbed mom. I’m glad Ohana put up a brave front, and refused trifling bribes.  It also renewed my frustration with Ohana and Ko’s lack of progress in the relationship arena.

They finally meet after so long, but their meeting is soured by Ohana seeing the cute girl he works with at the bookstore. Well, and the lack of a plan going in. She just decided to…meet him, just like that. She’s about to scold him about not giving the smitten girl a firm answer, when she realizes that’s exactly what she failed to do for him. She can’t or won’t express all the pent-up feelings rattling around in her head, and decides the best thing to do is to turn tail…again. With this new low, and the fact that Ko is in Tokyo and Ohana…isn’t, perhaps romance lies elsewhere for her. Tohru, for instance. Rating: 4

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After running around overexerting herself and working so hard the past few episodes, Ohana finally pays for it with what everyone refers to as a “light fever.” Always so chipper and energetic, Ohana finally has to lay in bed and do nothing, and it makes her mind wander. This is is an episode with many strange an dreamy moments, and perfectly depicts the combined feelings of weakness, helplessness, boredom, lonliness, and uselessness being sick can cause.

Ohana dreams of a Ko surrounded by light in a shrine who calls her home. Indeed, laying in bed hearing everyone say how well they’re getting along without her, combined with her delirium, lead her to question her usefulness at Kissuiso. She starts to doubt whether she even belongs there at all. After all, working hard has led to her being in this state; how can she go on?

One by one, the staff visits her. Tohru appears to be more outwardly smitten with her than ever, probably due to Ohana having temporarily losing her sharp edge. Minko notices how he acts towards and talks about Ohana, further complicating that triangle in the future. But in the end, everyone convinces her that she is a vital piece of the puzzle at Kissuiso, and once she’s better, the whole place will be better with her back on duty. Rating: 4

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The longest day at Kissuiso continues with Ohana in a labyrinthene exhibition hall, looking for Tohru. Her search initially proves both fruitless and disruptive, and she retreats to a lonely staircase. Just then, Ko calls her, and tells her exactly what she needs to hear. She and Ko are never quite on the same wavelength, which is a factor of Ko not making it clear what he’s doing and why. If he likes her, and wants to see her, he should just tell her and meet up with her. Instead, he’s intent on keeping crucial information from Ohana, and as a result, he is never able to see her.

I prefer this, his decision to withhold his intentions, to dumb luck and coincidence keeping them apart. Ohana is extremely busy and extremely ditzy; Ko should know this, and spell everything out as clearly as possible. It’s disappointing that he isn’t able to get the words out in the precious few moments on the phone with her, but the fact he’s able to cheer her up at just the right time doesn’t quite seem like enough for either of them. These two are stuck in a long-distance holding pattern, which is a shame, but there’s plenty of episodes to resolve (or not resolve) this.

Meanwhile, the highly-charged energy and kinesis of Kissuiso continues. Ohana’s instincts prove correct, as when she brings Tohru back, the situation matures from barely-contained fiasco it was to a more controlled scenario where everything that needs to be done will get done. She also proves correct in insisting every guest be treated with equal care, as the mystery guests turn out to be different from the ones the consultant lady assumed. The manager returns to a reinvigorated Kissuiso, that can run smoothly in her absense and gained new pride in their teamwork and the service they provide. That should prove a great comfort and great worry to the aging manager. Rating: 4

Hanasaku Iroha 8

Hanasaku Iroha finally arrests its downward trend and comes surging back with an extremely dense yet focused episode that recalled the energy of the excellent early episodes of this series. Like those, a lot of stuff happens in a short time, making the episode feel much longer than it actually was. With seven groups equalling twenty fresh customers descending on Kissuiso all at once, it’s all hands on deck.

But it isn’t: the manager falls ill with old lady syndrome; Nako is off; Tohru is at a wedding somewhere, and the chef, finally in a high-pressure situation for the first time in a long while, is starting to crack. The absences aren’t the only thing that need to be addressed, either. One or more of the groups could be a “mystery guest” from the travel magazines, meaning if their stay isn’t perfect, they’ll write about it with their more-mightier-than-sword pens. And, oh yeah, Ko is coming to see Ohana, but since her phone is off during work (and thanks to an awfully-timed tunnel), she misses potentially crucial calls to meeting up with him.

Throughout all the chaos, Ohana is running all over the place with a glimmer of doubt, like something is “off”, but that’s natural: the head honcho, her grandmother, is out of comission, and Ohana has never had to deal with the inn at this level of busy-ness. When she realizes she’s inadvertently ignored Ko’s calls, she flips her phone back shut; she has a mission to accomplish (locate Tohru), and cannot let her personal problems get in the way of her job and the people depending on her. That’s kind of a raw deal for Ko, but that’s the price of surprising your very busy would-be girlfriend. As for how things will work out at the inn, this is a two-parter, so we don’t know yet. But I damn sure want to find out! Rating: 4

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The school trimester starts, and Ohana ends up in the same class as Minko and Nako. There she quickly learns how a school full of teenagers from the boonies react when a “Tokyo Girl” arrives. She never gave it much thought before now, and neither did we. She even seems to have a boyfriends – of sorts, though she’ll always deny it. That said, all her little inner retorts to the rapidfire comments of the classmates are quite funny…and true too.

A beautiful girl comes to release her from the oglers. She turns out to be Ohana’s sworn enemy, Yuina. Well, not really, just another heiress to a profitable bathhouse, Fukuya. She’s the first to approach Ohana as a regular girl. Ohana learns a lot at school, between the classes: Minko is very popular with the fellas, but rejects them all before they can even get their confessions out.

In her resentful interactions with Ohana throughout the episode, she ends up slipping up, attributing the same qualities she sees in her ideal man to Tohru. This shocks Ohana, who has always seen Tohru as a tiresome tease. But Minko is serious, and Tohru likely has no idea, especially when the twist arrives: Yuina is dating him! All this human drama is nicely punctuated by the presence of a very bold grey heron who is always bumping into Ohana. I’m not sure if there’s some symbolism in that, but it’s intriguing all the same. Rating: 3.5