Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 06

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The Gist: Amidst the Spring rain, four dragon x human couplings blossom. Riko, whose older sister is also a maid-otaku, invites Kana and company over for a playdate. While Kobayashi and Riko’s sister bond over maids (and Tohru feels left out), Riko introduces Kana to Twister and, as their loli bodies entwine, Kana introduces Riko to lust.

Kana’s objectives are a little vague here. She knows her strengths make her popular in class, but it doesn’t feel like the friendship she see’s between Kobayashi and Tohru. However, she doesn’t seem entirely invested in Riko, dspite Riko offhandedly saying she would gladly marry Kana, and despite Kana mounting Riko and pinning her to the floor…

dragonmaid6_4Ah Twister, the loli’s gateway into awkward Yuri action…

The entire Kana x Riko section is played for laughs, which is a little creepy considering the laughs are about proto-sexual interactions between elementary school-age children, but not nearly as creepy as Lucoa’s relationship with Magatsuchi Shouta

Shouta is the descendant of mages and about Riko’s age. While trying to summon a demon, he ended up summoning Lucoa, who is now living at his house, taking baths with him, and sleeping with him clutched in her arms. How his parents are not involved in this is unclear and beside the point. What is clear is that Lucoa’s only value to him is her physical body, and no matter how much she rubs her breasts in his face, he doesn’t even want that.

Like Kana x Riko, this section is played for laughs. We’re supposed to find it funny that Lucoa, who is the level-headed dragon, is flustered by her lack of value to her partner. We’re also supposed to find it funny that a mature woman is making sexual advances on a young boy, who is obviously aroused by it but has no tools to cope except to call her names and shout objections. In short, we’re supposed to find child molestation acceptable, if not funny, because of the gender norms in play. Nice!

dragonmaid6_1Lolz a clueless sexual predator won’t leave this little boy alone lolz / wtf?!

The final section is devoted to Fafnir and Takiya, which is book-ended by KanaKobayashi and Tohru enjoying the rain. While Fafnir and Takiya are naturally awkward characters, this section is anything but.

They have a routine, if sorts, with the day starting and ending with Takiya making meals for them to share, and lots of online gaming in between. I love that Fafnir always asks if the flavor is ‘mild,’ no matter what type of dish is served. I love that they are making a game together and are planning to sell it at Comiket. I love that their relationship is almost completely inverse of Tohru x Kobayashi.

But what really sells it as a complete and interesting set of scenes is the tiny amount of time we actually spend in Fafnir’s head. He sees humans as hit or miss and finds the amount of effort to decide if a person is a hit too much. He’d rather limit his exposure to the easy misses—the humans who raid his lair for gold—than put himself out there. Except, without explaining what he means, he tells Takiya a hit and lets Tikiya call him Faf-kun.

That added a charming layer to what would otherwise be disposable side-character antics.

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The Verdict: Episode 6 presents a significant challenge in the ratings department. While Fafnir x Takiya’s story provided an unusually thoughtful, well paced experience, and Tohru x Kobayashi’s time watching the rain had a similar effect, the overall experience was just ‘watchable.’

Additionally, I respond poorly to the use of sexualization for exploitation’s sake, and this week’s Kana x Riko and Lucoa x Shouta used it for even less. Introducing Shouta this late in the season with no clear purpose doesn’t help things either.

In the grand scheme of things, those scenes didn’t make the episode hard to watch, though I would argue it did make it worse. Worse and I suspect they will become a recurring theme for some reason, which greatly reduces my interest in reviewing it.

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Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 05

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The Gist: Tohru follows Kobayashi to work and gains a better appreciation for Kobayashi’s reliable nature and indifference to pressure. (Even so, Tohru dispenses some righteous justice on Kobayashi’s abusive boss)

For her own part, Kobayashi comes to realize that she’s changed a bit over the past few months. She’s happier and more relaxed and knows she owes it to Kobayashi. She can barely remember what she was like before they started living together. Strangely, she never expresses this point to Tohru

Meanwhile, Kana and Riko have a few short and utterly forgetable scenes at school, each of which ends with Riko climaxing at Kana’s touch. (though the climax is trimmed shorter and shorter each time)

Finally, Fafnir tries to get an apartment but, after failing some basic aspects of being human, moves in with Kobayashi’s coworker.

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The Verdict: If Little Witch hadn’t just zapped me with a methodically uneventful episode, I may have enjoyed this this week’s Dragon Maid a bit more. Unfortunately, the uneventfulness of the plot barely held my attention.

Sure, Tohru’s surprising appearance on the TV magic show as a payoff to the not-learning-magic plot was expert level joke-craft, and it’s somewhat funny to see Fafnir crop up in two unrelated animes this week, but the sum total of events this week equal: Fafnir moving to the human world more permanently and Tohru telling him she is in the human world to stay.

Sprinkle in some longing looks and the as-yet-unrevealed why Tohru is obsessed with Kobayashi and that’s neither character growth or eventful plot developments to cling to.

Ultimately? It’s watchable, pleasant, and a bit more engaging than this week’s Demi-chans, but not as visually striking as Little Witch, nor as frenetic as its own previous outings. Hopefully, something more will develop soon…

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Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 04

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The Gist: Kana watches human children go to school and feels left out. Seeing no harm in integrating her into human society, Kobayashi files the appropriate paperwork off camera and, along with Tohru, the three go shopping for school supplies. Wacky antics ensue.

Kana’s friendly-shy personality and physical abilities quickly earn her friends at school. Additionally, Saikawa Riko, the class’ unpopular princess with a shiny forehead, becomes her rival and comic relief. Antics involving older boys and domination of the dodgeball court ensue.

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The Verdict: As a reviewer, I regularly ask myself “is this an original concept or a gimmicky re-skin of a conventional story?” Dragon Maid feels like it is trying to be the former, with its andro asexual professional single female protagonist, but the simple fact is Kobayashi is just a male archetype with a female voice. Similarly, the misfit dragons are like any other alien/demon/magic user/foreigner/outsiders trope about fitting in (or not, wackily) with Japanese culture + harem elements.

This doesn’t mean Dragon Maid isn’t funny, nor made poorly. While mid-shelf in quality, the action sequences are engaging. This week’s volleyball sequence was especially dynamic. Similarly, the writing is often funny and each character’s kindness is appealing in a harmless sort of way. This week’s trip to buy supplies, where the dragons don’t know how things work, but everyone acts like a family and has fun, provides a solid example of that comfort-food enjoyability.

What puzzles me is when Dragon Maid appears to be trying to make larger social commentary. Take the value Kobayashi puts on uniforms and uniformity, as a way to reduce Japanese peoples’ natural fear of differences OR her shock at the cost of basic school supplies (Kana’s standard book bag was $100) OR the group’s response to the supplies available for purchase at the local shopping arcade, which were drab and unappealing to children, yet surrounded by elderly shop owners and signs appealing to shop-local. Tohru is even afraid of the mall, because it reminds her of a castle, which is a dangerous place for a dragon to land.

The entire shopping sequence is littered with commentary about consumerism and community, and it’s interesting…but, given Dragon Maid’s scene structure, which flows more like a sequence of short self-contained gags, this commentary feels out of place. Perhaps it actually makes the scenes without commentary feel lacking by comparison? Either way, puzzling pros and cons.

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Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 03

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The Gist: this week features another string of vignettes, anchored by a longer telling of the team moving into a larger apartment. We get glimpses of Kobayashi’s childhood as they pack, information about dragon bathing habits, the frustration of commuting back to the wrong apartment after a move, we meet three new neighbors, and, finally, a party where we meet two more dragons.

Throughout all of this, Tohru and Koby’s relationship becomes more comfortable. They play and tease more honestly, and manipulate each other more openly too. (Koby to avoid house cleaning and Tohru to get a thorough washing)

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-12-51-10-pmThe new dragon’s boobs are absurdly huge…

The Verdict: The strength of this show is its casual nature. We met a ton of characters this week, which culminated in a dinner party where people didn’t entirely get along but there was no crucial narrative turning point here, no confrontation either. Just weirdos hanging out, eating food and playing games.

That lack of purpose would irritate me in most shows. However, Liking this show doesn’t hinge on that mystery and liking its characters doesn’t hinge on them doing anything. Dragon-maid’s choice to push the mystery plot back and just let the characters interact just works.

Call me confounded. Pleased and confounded!

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Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 02

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The Gist: Kanna-chan, a blue bird-like Dragon Gothic Lolita with a tribal theme, quickly moves in with Kobayashi and Tohru this week. She’s recently been kicked out of the dragon world for pulling a prank but she’s also here because she was worried about Tohru, who she’d heard was killed.

Much of the episode is spent with her and Tohru wandering around the human world, misunderstanding how things work, but generally being close and enjoying each other’s company. Many little moments, like thinking a see-saw is for catapult training, are framed inside yellow and black segment cards, which gives the entire adventure a vignette feel.

Over all, we learn less about plot and more about how characters interact, and it’s all delightfully shown and not told. And as for showing, there’s plenty of action too! Tohru beats down a purse snatcher, Kanna and Tohru rough-house in an epic magic battle, and the girls launch each other into the stratosphere with the before mentioned see-saw.

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The Verdict: what an odd little episode? Like Flying Witch, this was very pleasant, despite having no stakes at all. Characters just have fun taking in the world and trying to tease out a little more about each other’s circumstances. If it were not for all the magic and epic action shots, you could even call it… naturalistic in feel.

As with last week, Kobayashi feels like a gender swapped male. In fact, I’m certain this is a harem show with a andro-female protagonist, who’s not really interested in the harem. Coupled with the magic, dragons and everything else, and you’ve got one weird little world. Weird and lovely!

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Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: while drunk in the mountains, Kobayashi invites a dragon to live in her apartment as a maid. Tohru, the dragon in question, happily agrees for reasons not entire clear to the hung-over Kobayashi the following morning. This agreement, including Tohru’s apparent sexual love for her, may stem from a life debt. More on that later…

In the meantime, Kobayashi has to go to work and Tohru, who knows very little about the human world, has to get by with internet searches and calling other dragons on a magic phone. As you would imagine, Tohru doesn’t totally get it right…

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You’ll probably like Dragon Maid if you enjoy peppy humor, with the hints of a darker story beneath the surface. (Tohru’s nightmares, whatever Kobayashi did to save her, etc.) The visuals are average but pop pleasantly. The dialogue has strong comedic timing and the situational surprises are nice and quirky. (Kobayashi and Takiya being opinionated maid-otaku when drunk was hilarious, Tohru washing Kobayashi’s laundry in her mouth was gross but fun, etc.)

You may not care about Dragon Maid if the whole ‘pretty girl with animal parts’ genre is played out for you. While her ability to fly, breathe fire, and turn into a giant, not-at-all-human looking creature separates Tohru from the average Cat-Girl, the humor structured around her is effectively the same: She doesn’t understand our world and makes odd choices while trying to please her new master.

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The Verdict: I was pleasantly surprised by Tohru’s nightmares, which bumped the show above pleasant but forgettable comedy. Making Kobayashi female is also a nice twist on the convention. Even though she’s somewhat andro, and her coworkers tend to think of her as one of the guys, she is not homosexual, which gives the showrunners more to work with regarding Tohru’s advances.

Go on, you know you want to give this one a watch!

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 03

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This week both Kumiko and Reina have to have potentially uncomfortable (and in Reina’s case, catastrophic) conversations with people who are by nature hard to approach: Asuka and Taki-sensei, respectively. Reina is open with Kumiko about what she must do, and tacitly seeks support; Kumiko doesn’t tell Reina what she’s up to regarding Asuka and Nozomi.

Also, Reina’s is a simply matter of love. Kumiko feels she has to take an active role in the repair the frayed ends of the band before they get worse. She may have been sparing Reina extra stress, but perhaps she’s also keeping things quiet because she’s still not sure she can succeed.

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After a day of grueling, repetitive practice with short breaks for bathing and eating, Kumiko is already at a physical disadvantage in her long-awaited chat with Asuka (who has far more stamina). But Kumiko remains focused, as she must, to keep their talk on track.

Asuka wants to steer Kumiko away at every turn, but once she sees how committed Kumiko is, she isn’t shy about explaining why she can’t support Nozomi joining the band. In short, because their only oboist, Yoroizuka, wouldn’t be able to play.

It’s plain old logic: you already have some flutes, but only one oboe. So Asuka does what needs to be done for that oboist to be able to perform optimally—and even when Hashimoto says she plays like a robot, she’s still very good.

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Asuka warned Kumiko that possessing this knowledge would only make her miserable: how is she going to keep her promise by telling Nozomi…that? It wouldn’t just be a blow to her as a musician, but also completely upend her perspective on her relationship with Yoroizuka.

Sure enough, Kumiko isn’t in the best of moods, but Reina shows up with sparklers, and suddenly Kumiko has a worthy diversion: taking Reina by her perfectly constructed cheeks and giving her a wordless look after Reina hesitates asking Taki if he’s dating Niiyama.

Proving she’s simply a magnet for personal information and probably has a bright future in talk therapy, after Reina strides off, Hashimoto sits beside Kumiko and lets slip that Taki is a widower; his wife died five years ago and he’s been a “husk” ever since. But he’s happy Taki took the job at Kitauji, and even happier when he asked him to join him.

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When I heard Reina say Taki and Niiyama aren’t dating, I knew she’d sleep soundly that night. Sure enough, she’s blissfully dozing away, but Kumiko is restless, unsure of whether to tell her about Taki’s wife.

Her night wandering leads to her eavesdropping on Yuko and Natsuki, with the later confused about why Nozomi can’t join the band and the former unwilling to let too much slip, partly because she doesn’t want a big mess on her hands.

Yuko saw Kumiko try to hide, and treats her to a juice and a chat of their own. Yuko, like Asuka and now Kumiko, knows the truth about Yoroizuka and Nozomi, but doesn’t want Natsuki involved. Kumiko steers the talk to what Yuko herself thinks of competitions. She doesn’t like them, but if she has to be in one, she wants Gold.

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Kumiko returns to her futon and a now half-awake Reina (nice job with both seiyus modifying their voices to sound tired, discreet, and like they’re lying on their sides, which they are). Reina’s first thought of where Kumiko was is Tsukimoto, who has a hilariously tiny role so far this season, commensurate to the amount of shits Kumiko cares about him.

After honestly asserting that her childhood friend has “nothing to do with it”, Kumiko changes the subject, asking Reina the same thing she asked Yuko, and getting a predictably different and very Reina response: most people complaining about competitions is sour grapes, and all one can really do is to “get good.”

Besides, she likes playing in front of people, and competitions offer her that chance. For the record, she likes ’em. Then she nods back off, no longer troubled about Taki.

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The episode ends quietly and beautifully, not with another frank discussion on how someone feels about competitions, but with a sleep-deprived Kumiko striking out into the dawn with trusty euph in hand, and coming upon a “strange, warm, lonely piece” being played by Asuka in the middle of a grassy field.

Honestly, it sounded Ghibli-esque to me, like something Pazu might play on his trumpet for his doves. It’s a lovely scene, and a reminder to Kumiko that Asuka carries in her a “myriad of emotions” she releases in her music. While that might make her the opposite of Yoroizuka, well…they still need an oboe, and she’s it.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 02

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Oooo, it’s a pool episode! Except Hibike! Euphonium doesn’t really do straight up pool episodes. Yes, Kumiko and Sapphire are dazzled by Reina’s new swimsuit, but fanservice isn’t the sole point of the episode. Indeed, we get the same nuanced interactions between characters, regardless of garb.

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This is because Kumiko, seeing all the strife around her, can’t help but want to do something. She’s also not afraid to stand up for herself this week, when Nozomi asks why she and not Natsuki is in the competition group. She’s in because she’s better.

To her surprise, she doesn’t make an enemy of Nozomi right then and there. On the contrary, the two have a nice long chat that results in Kumiko promising to talk to Asuka. She even forgets she’s supposed to be having fun with Reina and the others.

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The pool segment is only half the episode. From there we get right to the practice camp, where Taki-sensei introduces another teaching assistant for the woodwinds, the very talented—and very stunning—Niiyama Satomi. The two seem to flirt a little, which just wrecks poort Reina. We’ve never seen her so out of it!

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Kumiko knows less about romance than Reina, so she decides not to touch that lest she cause more harm than good. Instead, she ends up in more one-on-one talks, first with Natsuki, who thanks her on Nozomi’s behalf and states her undying admiration for her, and Mizore, who expresses how much she hates competition, and how it causes her pain.

Kumiko, for her part, answers as forthrightly as she did regarding Nozomi’s question about why Natsuki wasn’t ahead of her. Their music is judged the way it is…because that’s just the way it is. She’s fine with it. You may not know exactly what a judge likes on any given day in any given competition…but neither does anyone else. You simply have to play as well as you can, and live with things outside your control.

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In perhaps my favorite scene of an episode full of nice conversations, Kumiko returns to her futon next to Reina, who is still awake and still worrying about Taki and Satomi. This time Kumiko has an answer, which is that they have no way of knowing how Taki feels unless he’s asked.

That brightens Reina’s mood somewhat, and the two simply join hands and stare at each other for a while. IMO there is no friendship deeper or more well-realized than these two this Fall. The voice actors and animators weave their usual magic here, nailing every little gesture and subtle change of tone.

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When Kumiko tells Reina she seems more grown up “inside and outside”, it also self-motivates her to try to emulate Reina, by following through on her promise to Nozomi to confront Asuka and get some answers. It’s not going to be easy, or likely pleasant—Asuka’s a damn hard nut to crack, and loves to cut conversations short with curt responses—but I look forward to seeing if Kumiko can achieve her goal.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 01

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Ah, no more messing around. Here comes a properly good Autumn hump day show that immerses you in its gloriously naturalistic and precise world. Granted, I was pre-immersed last year, but it takes no time at all in this sprawling-yet-measured 47-minute season premiere to fall back under the spell of Sound!

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Oumae Kumiko and Kousaka Reina have never been closer, literally or figuratively. Perhaps it’s a factor of Reina being satisfying with their level of success: they placed first in Kyoto and are representatives at the Kansai competition, the next step to the Nationals she dreams of winning someday. Right there with her, kind of in her wake, is Kumiko, who is more open and affectionate to Reina than anyone else, even, no especially her mom and big sister.

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Kumiko and Reina are relatively steady variables in this opener: all of the conflict comes from the uneasy atmosphere being created by still-open wounds among the upperclassmen.

Specifically, one former member who quit in the great second-year purge wants back in, but Asuka won’t budge. The first years are kept out of the loop, and it hurts their focus. As usual, KyoAni is impeccable at not just telling but showing the subtle but increasingly assertive effect of the senpai drama.

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Kumiko is a great protagonist because she’s so good at being in the middle of things while not dominating those events with her personality. She’s a deceptively very “normal” girl hiding multitudes beneath her exterior, brough to life with a skilled performance by Kurosawa Tomoyo (in a total 180 from her character of Sylphy in Amaburi). I love how drastically Kumiko’s tone changes when she’s talking to her fam, as if it’s a huge imposition to do so, which makes perfect sense since she’s a teenager.

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But most gratifying in a sea of senpai uncertainty and a looming life-altering competition is to see the collective rock that is Kumiko and Reina. They’re far past their troubles of past years, and both value one another’s company and conversation above all others.

They are proof that previous bad blood can not only be corrected, but flourish into a beautiful friendship. As the assistant instructor (a pro in the music industry) says to the band: be more imposing. Make more of an impact. Don’t be reticent, because it all comes through in their music.

Everyone has to be more open with one another to succeed and become the best band they can be, as well as the best people. Unpleasant things like resentments and grudges and infamous incidents can’t be allowed to fester. And most importantly, life shouldn’t be a constant struggle. You gotta stop and ogle the fireworks in rapt awe once in a while.

This was a baller premiere that reminded me why KyoAni is so good with such regularity. It doesn’t just nail the fundamentals, but sweats the details to the extent there are gestures and tones you won’t see anywhere else, to say nothing of the complexity of the emotions in play. A very solid and confident start.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 07

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Aaaaaand I think I’ve about had my fill of Phantom World! It’s a show with lush visuals beyond reproach that for some reason seems intent on out-twee-ing and out-moe-ing itself with each passing week. This week, which opens with the seventeen-millionth adoption of Schrodinger’s Cat in an anime (and presented as if it’s being used for the first time), and devolves from there, was the breaking point.

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When the kitten of one of Kurumi’s friends goes missing, everyone at school starts acting like, then slowly transforming into, cats. Due to Haruhiko’s pre-OP explanation, we knew this was what was happening, but it still takes the crew, including Haruhiko himself, one entire half of the episode to figure it out.

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Look, the sight of a whole school of students curling up and napping, or Mai and Reina stretching like felines, or getting excited by fish or toys is cute and all, but there isn’t any substance to any of it. It’s just pure eye candy, and the characters are just along for the ride. I frankly just couldn’t roll with it this time.

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Their investigations, if you want to call it that, lead them to a bizarrely abandoned mansion near the school (why?) and the gang ends up hopelessly lost, their senses inundated with confusingly trippy scenes. These visuals would be a lot more engaging if there was anything profound behind them, but it seems the artists just wanted to draw cool stuff, and stuffed it all into this episode with a cat theme slapped on.

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They finally determine the entire mansion is a giant cat-house phantom, which is manifested in a form lifted straight out of Howl’s Moving Castle. How does the lost and quickly catifying group overcome this phantom? All too easily and neatly, unfortunately. Kurumi literally meows at it to give up the kitten in drew in, and the phantom just kinda vanishes, apparently satisfied…for some reason. It sure went through a lot of trouble only to fold like a cheap catsuit!

This was a mansion owned by a wealthy couple that loved cats, and after they died, you expect me to believe their valuable property was simply left to rot? Why wasn’t the building inherited by someone, or fall into public trust or something? How is it they’re able to clean the place up so quickly, when it had sat abandoned and dilapidated for years? You expect me to believe some mops and elbow grease will fix the foundation, wiring, plumbing, etc.?

You see, I’m so disenchanted with this show, I’m resorting to bestowing unfairly lofty expectations of practical logic on it. Definitely time to say so long and thanks for all the fish.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 06

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Like Reina’s phantom-created illusory ideal world, this week takes place predominantly takes place in a world other than the one in which are characters usually spend time. It’s not nearly as trippy, despite the Alice & Wonderland aesthetic of the inside of Kurumi’s head.

It’s “cuter” too, and I don’t mean that in a good way. It’s very nearly too precious; too overt in its efforts to melt our hearts. Then again, this episode’s heroine is only in the fourth grade, so the more childish innocent milieu is understandable.

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Setting aside issues of why a fourth grader needs to fight beside high schoolers, the fact is Kurumi is so painfully shy and introverted and dependent on the constant presence of her “security blanket” Albrecht, when Haruhiko simply trying to keep her from falling in the street triggers a phenomenon that sends bother him and her into the depths of her mind.

There are bears everywhere because the word “bear” is present in nearly every aspect of her life, and she’s also recently read a fairy tale. Here, Albrecht is an amplified version of what he is in real life: a protector. A literal knight who walks and talks rather than a symbolic shield in her arms. With, as Ruru says, a damn smooth voice!

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Her fears are manifested in a rival clan that seeks to gain dominion over her, but when Albrecht is wounded by the clan’s archer, she must choose to either continue relying on him, which may lead to his demise, or start to stand on her own and protect him for a change.

It’s a pretty obvious choice, considering Kurumi feels indebted to Albrecht for being her bear for virtually the entirety of her life. Keeping him close, she slowly learned how to talk to others and make friends, but when the opportunity arises here to take one big next step towards facing her fears and fighting them alone, she takes it.

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When the rival clan leader (also a bear) shows up in a great big mecha, Kurumi’s rake necklace grows into a weapon she can wield, while she undergoes a classic Sailor Moon-esque transformation into a magical girl.

There’s no escaping the fact that this is all pretty derivative, but the design and animation is solid as always, and Kuno Misaki, who is one of the seiyus specializing in voicing young kids, turns in a decent enough performance.

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Kurumi fights, Kurumi wins, and Kurumi and Haruhiko exit her head and end up back in that crosswalk. Kurumi accompanies Haruhiko in joining Mai, Reina, and Koito (largely out of the picture this week), who are about to go on a phantom hunt. Haruhiko worries that Kurumi is exhausted from her ordeal, but she insists on coming, confident she can hold her own with them.

Like most of MPW, this episode is best described as generally pleasant, often adorable, occasionally chuckle-worthy…but ultimately unexceptional. I’m loath to drop now that the team has finally been fully assembled (and each girl given a focus episode, with Reina’s being the best).

But I’m under no illusions that this is a guilty pleasure. A very pretty show that’s not much deeper than the puddles on that crosswalk.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 05

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This week focuses on MPW’s member of the team who isn’t really a member yet, the aloof, distant Minase Koito. We learn she gained her powers at a young age, and at the cost of never being close to friends or family ever again. A chimera-like beast who loves preying on animals is the phantom that first awakened her powers, and she wants payback. Only she has two problems: she can’t take the phantom on alone, and Haruhiko won’t leave her alone.

It starts with one of Haruhiko’s friends saying something mean about Koito with Koito right behind him. Haruhiko means to apologize, but ends up caught up in the fight with the phantom. Koito saves Haruhiko from the brunt of its attack, but gets a face full of voice-nullifying gas, and without her voice, Koito can’t do squat.

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The episode is basically a progression of Koito realizing again and again that the phantom is too much for her to take on alone, as Haruhiko, Mai, Reina, and newcomer Kumamakura Kurumi (the girl who was observing the group from afar last week). Turns out Kurumi’s teddy bear Albrecht can balloon into a huge golem who fights for her

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Koito doesn’t take kindly to having her personal affairs intruded upon by meddlers like Haruhiko and Mai, but Haruhiko, feeling responsible for her voice getting damaged, can’t help but stay near her side as she tries in vain to take out the phantom. Mai, meanwhile, is very obviously miffed by Haruhiko’s sudden obsession with Koito, a classic childhood friend reaction.

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Koito’s voice heals enough for her to go at the phantom one more time, but it isn’t long before it breaks out the gas and she finds herself in a tough spot. But thanks to Ruru, Haruhiko was able to locate her. He summons Marchosias to distract the phantom while Kurumi uses Albrecht to pummel him into submission.

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From there, it becomes a group affair, with Reina healing Koito, Mai employing her elemental magic, and Haruhiko sketch-sealing the phantom. Himeno-sensei then notes that the phantom isn’t the same one that awakened Koito’s powers years ago after all; Koito was chasing after the wrong phantom.

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After Haruhiko & Co. went the extra mile for her sake without claiming the quarry she meant to claim, Koito can’t help but ask Himeno for Haruhiko’s address so she can wait outside his place as he waited outside hers, in order to apologize and thank him for his help. Which for someone as introverted as Koito, is real progress.

This episode got repetitive at times – Koito faces off against the phantom; loses; gets bailed out; then protests the others’ interference – but it was a decent enough fleshing out of the heretofore least fleshed-out member of the team…aside from Kurumi, who seems to exist in the show for “cuteness (as opposed to comic) relief.”

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 04

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It’s very appropriate that this week’s episode of Phantom World begins with a binge session at a restaurant, as it’s Restaurant Week here and I just got back from stuffing myself. The episode then transforms into an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of whimsy focused on the show’s resident eating champion, Izumi Reina.

After dinner, she splits from Haru and Mai and ends up boarding a very unusual bus that takes her…somewhere. Our first go-round with the process is very mysterious, because one minute she’s boarding the bus, the next, she’s outside the front gate of her house. The next morning, Koito (Hi Koito!) confesses to witnessing the whole thing, determining that Reina is possessed by a phantom.

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That assertion proves very true when Haruhiko boards the bus with Reina next time. She’s totally out of it, as if hypnotized, but he’s lucid as the bus transports them, in a sequence that (not accidentally) owes much to the train journey in Spirited Away, to another place; an idealized storybook home complete with adorable bunny caricatures of Reina’s parents (who are a lot stricter in real life.)

As is usually the case in scenarios such as this, eating the food is a bad idea, but Haruhiko realizes this too late, and grows his own bunny ears and a pastel texture to his character design that indicates he’s been “taken” by this place. He acts out Reina’s fantasy as his big brother, until the fantasy breaks and the two are back at the front of her real house, with her real father wanting to know who Haruhiko is. Reina sends him home, promising to explain everything later.

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Turns out Mai reminds Reina very strongly of her real big sister, who got tired of their parent’s tightassery and flew the coop. So after Haruhiko fails miserably in trying to sketch-seal the bus the next time (he’s still under the phantoms’ influence), Mai and Ruru board with Haruhiko and Reina, and end up in the fantasy world with them. Ruru, who is unaffected by the food, ends up accidentally gives Mai a taste, thus bewitching her too.

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It’s not until Haruhiko goes to the bathroom of all things, that he snaps out of it; I imagined the food he ate was the cause of the hypnosis, and when he shat it out, the effects dissipated. He refers to the bathroom as a portal between the real and unreal, or some such. In any case, he takes a chance and ends up successfully snapping Reina out of it by hugging her, a gesture that always elicits a reaction in the form of a martial arts throw.

Once she’s lucid, watching the still-bewitched Mai interact with her “phantom parents” Reina realizes the phantoms fed on her desire for her family to be whole again, creating a world where she could live happily ever after even without that sister.

When the phantoms tell her to make a choice, Haruhiko beseeches her to stay in the world in which she belongs, so she can be there if and when her sister returns home. Reina chooses to reject the phantom world and stay strong beside her senpais. All in all, a very lush, atmospheric episode with heavy Ghibli influence, which taught us a little more about Reina. Though we still don’t know where all that food she eats goes…

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