Kino no Tabi – 07

Eating a hot dog reminds Kino of a time she once unsuccessfully tried to get one over on her Master, who was cooking hot dogs at the time. Kino then shares a story with Hermes that her Master shared with her, about a country with a big clock tower and, suspiciously, an even bigger police force.

When Master’s young male apprentice is framed for drug possession and locked up, and she is unable to bribe the dirty cop to let him go, Master uses some of her Apprentice’s infiltration equipment and uses an elaborate set of diversions in the form of city-wide trash can bombs to clear the jail of police and slip in wearing one of their uniforms.

The Apprentice knew she would come—like Kino, he knows very well how good she is—and the question is not can they leave, but how. Both Master and Apprentice agree to make a bang rather than sneak out; demonstrate their full power to an arrogant bully that could use a good nosebleed.

For three days and nights they hole up in the central clock tower, shooting any and all policemen who draw within range, but not killing anyone; only wounding them. They cause such a disturbance, the police start to lose their grip on the country, as the public and their leaders demand something be done.

Master and Apprentice do not relent as smaller and smaller formations of police form up at the base of the tower. All are scattered by gunfire, until the very petty-tyrant commanding officer who sat on his petty throne and told Master no price was high enough to free her companion, is now the one who must offer a price to the Master—and it better be high enough, or more bullets will rain down.

It’s a good story, and one I’d think was apocryphal were it not for the somewhat magical realist nature of Kino’s world. Not to mention it just makes sense that the woman who made Kino the kind of “traveler” she is would be that badass!

Kino just so happens to be in the neck of the woods of that Clock Tower Country, and when she arrives in the courtyard where many shots were once fired without taking a life, she finds a monument made from a door blown off one of the police trucks back then.

An old man with a cane and and a granddaughter explains to Kino and Hermes that the memorial is a tribute to the two “Travelers of Justice” whose brazen acts freed the people from a corrupt and oppressive law enforcement system by essentially wearing them down until they grew ashamed of their conduct and shaped up.

Kino and Hermes alike are a bit amused that the country took Master and her Apprentice’s actions in such high esteem, but was the Master simply keeping her skills sharp in service of escaping the country, or did she have grander plans for that three-day-and-night stand?

We’ll never know, nor will Kino, but after this black-and-white and sepia-tinged look back to the past, she turns Hermes around and continues forward, into that Beautiful World, to  make some history of her own.

Kino no Tabi – 06

This week is spent “up in the clouds” and barely involves Kino at all—she and Hermes only bookend the episode. In their stead, we get a lovely, beautiful, and heartwrenching semi-allegorical tale up in the mountains involving a new character, an orphan girl (voiced by Minase Inori, who is everywhere), sold into servitude, constantly treated like crap by her merchant owners, adult and child alike.

The episode wastes no time portraying those owners as a complete waste of life; they never let off the gas pedal of abuse, both verbal and physical, and the girl just…takes it all. They ask if she hates them, and she says she doesn’t. She doesn’t hate, resent, or wish harm on anyone; to do so would be a sin. They mock her piety, believing only humans who act inhuman survive in this ugly world.

Of course, part of the title of this show is The Beautiful World, with the understanding that the world is beautiful because it isn’t…but the mountaintop environs are ironically utterly gorgeous. If only the girl had better company.

She realizes too late that the herbs she picked and added to the soup for dinner were poisonous, and all attempts to warn her owners fall on deaf ears. She steels herself to drink the soup and die with them rather than live as a murderer (however unintentional), but a boy seals his fate by knocking her bowl out of her hands; she’s later hit with a rock and knocked out.

When she wakes up, the merchants are still alive, and the boy has convinced his father to sell him the girl so he can take his time killing her in order to “become a man”, which is what we’d call overkill. What the hell is this kid, the Devil’s Spawn? In any case, the poison kicks in and they all die before the girl’s eyes.

The only survivor is the man who told his younger colleague, essentially, that the girl being a slave while they’re free comes down to luck; “there but for the grace of God go I” kinda deal.

He believes that until his death, which is semi-self-inflicted, as he pretends to instruct the girl on how to use his rifle to kill herself, but fixes it so she shoots him instead. Before he dies, he unchains her, and with his last breath, tells her to live her life; she’ll understand someday why things happened this way.

To the girl’s shock, there’s a voice coming from one of the wagons. It’s a talking motorrad (in the form of an adorable Honda Motocompo) who has been listening to everything going on, and congratulates the girl on her freedom.

The girl still wants to die, but in the same vein as the last man to die, the motorrad tells her the only way to die is to live life. No one knows how or when death will come, but it comes for everyone. The circumstances that led to the girl’s current position shouldn’t be considered grounds for immediate death. Indeed, it was clearly her fate to survive, escape the shackles of bondage, and strike out on her own. Why else would she meet a talking motorrad immediately after her last captor died?

We see Kino and Hermes arriving at the camp where the bodies of the merchants remain; not much time has passed since the girl and the motorrad left. But as the credits roll we learn what became of her: she was accepted as an immigrant in a new country after telling them her story, took up photography, and became successful and esteemed.

She took on the name Photo, and kept her first friend, the motorrad whose name is Sou, close by the whole time. Sou believes she’s happy. She certainly looks content. I wonder if she’ll ever meet Kino…

Kino no Tabi – 05

“Hero” is rarely a title rightly given to oneself; it must be earned and bestowed upon them by those who deem them a hero. And sometimes it’s not the hero’s choice; they just are a hero, because that’s what the people say. Kino runs into one of those people, a tour guide and true believer who fawns over the great hero of her people and gives them a tour of his modest house.

While in there, the tour guide tells Kino and Hermes a number of stories about the relics on display, like a shovel that let him plant flowers anywhere (that was probably for digging poop holes) or his special knife (which is just a souvenir from another country).

Finally, Kino and Hermes meet the hero’s motorrad, kept in perfect running condition, but not ridden since his master’s death. He’s in his version of Hell, and wants desperately to either be freed or destroyed. Kino can do neither; not without deeply offending the people. Would YOU want to get on the bad side of that tour guide? Nuh-uh.

However, before leaving town Kino is approached by a boy who dreams of being a traveler, like Kino and the hero of their country. Kino nudges the kid in the direction of the hero’s doomed motorrad, leaving it up to the kid whether he’d like to take it for a ride. I doubt he could ever go back if he did, though!

Upon entering the gates of another country (the only gate through which travelers can enter or exit, oddly enough), Kino and Hermes find themselves in a dark wood, out of which a man appears and, talking to them as if he knows them, asks if they’ve seen his lover or were sent to give him a message about her. The man’s maid/caretaker catches up to him and takes him back home.

Kino and Hermes go into town and get the skinny on the man from the folk at the inn: He was the hero of their revolution, who had fallen in love with a farmer’s daughter. When the day of the revolution came, he launched a grenade at the escaping royal family’s car, killing them.

His actions secured liberty and a new government for the country, but the princess whom he’d slain turned out to be the farmer’s daughter. Wracked with grief and betrayal, the people say he went mad; and has had to be cared for by one caretaker after another.

For five years, he’s waited for his lover to return, and everyone keeps lying to him. Apparently no one wants to be the one to give him the bad news that she died, because they all say they’ll continue to lie until he dies or they do.

After helping the man’s caretaker get her wagon out of the mud, she offers them tea at the house the government built for the man. After sending him away by lying about an engine noise at the gate, she sits down with Kino and Hermes and tells them the truth: she is the princess, the royal family the man killed were body doubles, and her real family is safe and living comfortable lives out of danger.

Despite the man not knowing who she really is, the princess is still happy, and never wants things to change. The next day, when Kino and Hermes prepare to leave, the man runs out to meet them once more and tells them the truth: he’s not really crazy; he’s actually happy with things the way they are. Everyone in this country is happy lying to each other for their whole lives. I’m not sure if I should pity them or envy them.

Kino no Tabi – 04

This week KnT switches things up a bit, following Shizu and Riku’s Journey rather than Kino and Hermes’. We saw a moving country on the land last week; here, it’s a moving country on the sea; a Ship Country.

Shizu is invited aboard and brought before the ruling “Tower Clan”, who look like black mages. They offer him a choice of roles while aboard: serve them as a kind of rent-a-cop, or join the common people. Unsurprisingly to us, the humble prince chooses the latter.

He meets a cute, tiny girl named Tifana, or Ti for short, who doesn’t speak, but takes him and Riku all over the ship (despite choosing manual labor, he never has to do any). The general sorry state of the ship, periodic shaking, and numerous flooded compartments tell the tail of a ship that has long been neglected and may not even be afloat much longer.

As per usual, KnT doesn’t skimp on the gorgeous environment; quite a departure from the clean, gleaming, well-maintained Moving Country. When he finds what looks like a long-abandoned control room, he has Ti point out all the places where there’s flooding. The situation is dire, and the rulers of this country have much to answer for…or so he thinks.

Ti, meanwhile, conveys so much despite never speaking; she takes a liking to Shizu, and doesn’t seem to have anyone else. It’s a lovely, immersive moment when Shizu shields her from a sudden rainfall with his jacket and the two quietly listen to the nice, calming sound of the rain hitting the fabric.

Ti then takes him to the country’s roof, and the endless ocean sprawling out before him makes him feel like he’s flying above it. After experiencing this unique and exhilarating sight, he turns to the tower at the country’s center, and remembers that this could all end up under the see unless he does something.

That “something” means confronting the Tower Clan, and when they rebuke him, readies his sword. But another traveler arrived aboard the country who chose the opposite path: that of serving the leaders. When this traveler lifts their mask to reveal Kino, I was nearly bowled over. There‘s Kino!

She and Shizu aren’t on opposite sides long, as the clan quickly accuses her of plotting with Shizu, changes course, then sentences the two to remain aboard to die with the other people.

Shizu and Kino quickly answer by storming the tower and easily overpowering its haughty occupants. When they reach their Jedi Council-like observation deck, Shizu is asked by their leader if he wishes to be the new king, to which he says if necessary. With that, the black cloaks and hats fall to the floor, no longer occupying bodies.

It’s Shizu’s country now, and he promptly points it towards land, opens the gates, and has everyone come out. He tells them that the days of the country functioning properly, or at all, are numbered, something he may well be right about. However, he didn’t consider the fact that the people don’t care. They don’t want to live on the land; they never have. They’d rather die at sea. In trying to be the hero, Shizu only made himself the villain.

When Shizu turns Ti away to join the others, she suddenly stabs him in the gut with a knife, cursing him for leaving her nowhere to return to (as she says, speaking for the first time.

Hermes fills Kino, Shizu, and Riku in on who Tifana really is: the abandoned daughter of passing travelers who shares her name with the ship itself. Hermes also describes the country’s inhabitants as the descendants of children whose parents were killed by a plague, leaving them alone and with no one to lead or take care of them; enter the Tower Clan.

Now that he knows the truth, Shizu commits to taking care of Ti from now on, for which she’s very happy and grateful. But as Shizu, losing blood, starts to pass out, Ti fears he’ll die and leave her alone again, and pulls the pin on a grenade to end them both.

Fortunately, Kino’s there to shoot the grenade away and tend to Shizu’s wounds. Once he’s healed enough, she and Hermes take their leave, hopeful they’ll cross paths with Shizu, Riku, and Ti again. I hope so too; they make a fun team.

Kino no Tabi – 03

While resting before trying to figure out what to do next, Kino hears some rumbling in the distance. An earthquake? An avalanche? No … a country.

Neither this country nor any of its inhabitants are ever given names—the people only introduce themselves by their title(s)—but it is the coolest country Kino has visited yet: a country that moves.

Technically, that makes it a gigantic vehicle, so Kino does what one does when a vehicle approaches: thumb a lift. While the country-tank is initially a menacing thing, a kindly voice asks Kinos her intentions.

She’s then welcomed aboard with open arms by the immigration and diplomacy officer, who has a comfortable room available, with a bed with clean white sheets Kino probably hasn’t seen in a long time.

After beholding the consequences of shushing Hermes (who warned Kino to dry her hair before going to sleep) and fixing her bed-head, Kino continues her tour of this wondrous, awe-inspiring place full of contradictions—the same contradictions that face every country.

The country is powered by an advanced, self-maintaining reactor, but in order to avoid overheating (or perhaps a straight-up meltdown), the country has to be kept constantly moving, meaning the drive motors and caterpillar tracks must be carefully maintained.

But that’s not the only reason they keep moving: the people of the country, like Kino, want to explore the world as she does. The only difference is they all go together as a country, and take their country with them. That means leaving quite a mark, but the people have long since made their peace with that.

While maintaining the motors and tracks must be quite a feat, the scenes of life Kino sees are of a peaceful country where families relax in the lush rooftop park and schoolchildren paint murals on the country’s outside shell. Contemporary cars are driven around, and tablets are used. It’s a very comfortable living.

Throughout this flowery tour I kept waiting for the catch, but in terms of the people turning on Kino or becoming threatening in some way, that never happens. These are nice people, but their country is a huge nuisance what with the tracks it leaves, particularly when butting up against a conventional, immobile country.

Still, the leaders have no problem allowing Kino into their command center. After asking for and being forcefully denied passage through the country, those leaders simply shrug and order the country to press on. That means firing a laser to obliterate the border wall in their path.

While armed with artillery and missiles, nothing the other country has is any match for the moving country, which mows down everything in its path. Those aboard it can only apologize and assure them they’ll be out of their hair within half a day.

When the other country finds something they can damage—the children’s mural—the moving country goes on the offensive. Wishing to minimize casualties on the other side as much as possible, Kino steps forward offering her assistance.

She heads out to a vantage point, armed with her persuader sniper rifle, and efficiently destroys all of the missile guiding sights—without killing their operators. She also takes out a couple of stray missiles for good measure.

With that, Kino cements her role as a friend of the Moving Country…but she said at the start she was only there for a sightseeing visit of 5-10 days, and when those days are up, she bids the country farewell.

On to the next, not-moving country, but Hermes relays to her the very distinct possibility the next children’s mural will feature her fighting off the missiles.

And while the Moving Country is extremely intrusive to other countries its path happens to intersect with, it’s not like they have a choice! If they stop, the reactor blows. If they just drive around in circles, they’ll eventually lose their minds.

Moving is how this country survives. There is a cost to that survival, but it is acceptable. If they wanted, they could easily conquer and subjugate any other country or countries they wished, but they don’t. They only destroy what they must to keep moving.

Kino no Tabi – 02

Kino may be small, soft-spoken, and polite, but she’s also a powerful badass. As such, she knows that she must occasionally push herself as far as she can go, not only to explore her limits, but to keep her skills from getting rusty.

It’s with this in mind that Kino eagerly arrives at the “Coliseum county”, where newcomers must fight others, often to the death, in order to win their citizenship.

The eternal tournament could be called the ultimate diversion for a corrupt king trying to maintain his grasp on his little kingdom, which is rotting and falling apart at every turn. They don’t even keep the coliseum properly maintained.

All of this disrepair must be particularly distasteful to someone as obsessed with being on top her game as Kino, who is underestimated by each of her opponents but defeats them all with ease, without killing a single person.

The night before the final match, Kino tells Hermes to be near the arena so they can leave as soon as she’s done. Victory is never in doubt here, it’s only a matter of how Kino achieves it. Her finals opponent is a capable-looking fellow named Shizu, armed with a katana.

Kino lets Shizu get close enough to slash at her, but blocks his strike with guards hidden in her sleeves, and on his upswing, she trains a hidden pistol at Shizu, forcing him to concede defeat.

The crowd shouts “KILL! KILL! KILL!”, and Kino does kill…their king. Her question about spectators getting killed by stray bullets being of no consequence comes into play here, as does her homemade explosive round that explodes the king’s head, leaving no doubt that he’s gone.

As victor of the tournament, Kino gets to make a new rule for the games, and it’s this: everyone, not just newcomers, must fight each other to the death; the last person standing will be the new king. As she leaves on Hermes, the town starts tearing each other apart.

Shizu catches up with her by a lake and thanks her for killing his father; he was the prince who was cast out of the country and sought revenge, but Kino denied that revenge, taking care of the king herself. She also meets Shizu’s loyal talking dog Riku, whom I’d like to think whispered to Shizu that Kino’s a girl (her earlier “don’t call me boy” to the guards was another hint).

As for why Kino set the people of the town against one another and blew the whole thing up…I suppose a part of her didn’t like how they were exploiting misinformed newcomers looking for a verdant paradise, like the couple she and Hermes met on the road one day, and met just the woman another day (the man was killed in the tournament).

Now it’s a more fair, internalized system. Whether it makes the country a better or worse place is of little consequence; Kino is off to the next country.

Kino no Tabi – 01 (First Impressions)

After fourteen years, Kino is back on broadcast. I only caught a handfull of episodes from the original series, but the formula seems to be pretty much the same: Kino is on an unending journey astride her trusty motorized steed Hermes, traveling from country to country and never spending more than three days there, the “perfect length.”

The first country she encounters here is one where “killing is not prohibited.” Since she’s good on the quickdraw, she’s confident in holding her own there, but also curious if the country will be what a fellow traveler moving there expects it to be: a place where he can kill with impunity, and the home of an infamous serial killer, Regel.

Upon entering the country, Kino finds it to be a placid, bucolic place, where people walk the streets without fear and warmly interact with one another. Everyone also seems to be armed. The country’s culinary specialty is a delicious-looking tower of crepes. An old man representing the country invites Kino to settle there; Kino kindly declines.

Then the boorish traveler Kino encounter outside the country’s walls appears and threatens to kill her if she doesn’t give him all of her stuff. Kino hides behind Hermes, preparing for a protracted fight, but before the man can fire at them, he’s shot through the arm by a crossbow-wielding lady from the window of a nearby building. The entire town, fully armed, descends upon the man.

Then their leader, Regel himself, informs the traveler and would-be killer of the true way of things in this country: while killing is “not prohibited”, it isn’t permitted. The only killing that’s done is by the citizens as a whole; rising as one against anyone who would try to kill another. It is their way of maintaining justice and peace, and at least in their case, it seems to work.

Back on the road, Kino encounters a second traveler, who unlike the first is trying to find a safe country where he doesn’t have to worry about killing others to survive. While there is killing in Regel’s country, it’s not the kind this fellow need worry about. The legend he hears is not of the serial killer Regel, but of the country’s famed crepe towers.

As for Kino, she’s headed for the next country, which is sure to be completely different from this one, which will no doubt provide another fable about a certain aspect of life.

Yuuki Aoi is a worthy successor to Maeda Ai, and aside from some bursts of action (in this case violent and bloody) the overall presentation is calm, relaxed, and understated, as befits a slice-of-life series that focuses on a very unique and interesting transient life. Count me interested!

Classroom of the Elite – 04

Oh man, that elevator trip…so awkward…so much going on beneath the surface! To her credit, Kushida doesn’t break from her usual character once, not just there, but for the entire episode. It’s simply a given that she and Ayanokouji have this dark secret, and they have a deal, and he’ll honor it or else. We also never learn where Horitika stabbed him.

Everyone seems to be hiding the truth, both from others and from themselves. The truth seems like such a distant, unattainable thing now. And yet they must press on, and put one foot in front of the other. That pressing-on includes Ayanokouji moonlighting as reluctant romantic adviser to Class B’s idol, Ichinose Honami.

Still, the kid knows what he’s talking about, and talks to Ichinose about how someone in love suffers with trying to get the words out. Is he speaking from experience? In any case, he rejects her plan to make him her fake boyfriend (rightly so considering what an old cliche that is) and tells her The Truth is best. The girl who likes her is able to come out and confess, and Ichinose is able to gently reject her so that girl can move on.

That’s the end of act one, and while it may feel like a self-contained “mission” for Ayanokouji, in addition to the themes about hidden truths resonating in act two, Ichinose also incurs a debt to Ayanokouji that she intends to pay back. That will come in handy in act two, in which Sudou fucks up again, exposing the class to forfeiture of points.

The latest incident is another hidden truth: we don’t know what happened, just that Sudou was confronted by three Class C basketball players, and a fight ensued. He claims self-defense. Meanwhile, the incident has piqued Horikita’s brother’s interest, while at the club, one of Sudou’s accusers, Ryuen Kakeru, has an underling beaten up to help their case.

(I hasten to point out here that if Kushida was prepared to rely on fingerprint evidence to accuse Ayanokouji of raping her, I was left wondering later if a similar method could prove that Sudou didn’t beat up Ryuen’s co-conspirator).

Hirata, essentially Class 1-D’s male Kushida (only not secretly evil), decides to believe Sudou’s self-defense claim and an investigation ensues, with the class banding together to find witnesses and evidence. In this venture, Kushida teams up with Ayanokouji without any reservations, while Horikita is reluctant to participate.

They aren’t making much progress until Ichinose Honami hears about the investigation and offers to help out, citing that she owes Ayanokouji one. She even arranges an online venue where people can post information in exchange for rewards.

When someone posts anonymously, she isn’t sure how to transfer her points to the guy, so enlists Ayanokouji’s technical know-how…in the process, showing him her personal points balance to be in excess of 2.6 million yen ($23,000) immediately setting off alarms in both his head and mine.

Ayanokouji’s dorm room has apparently become the meeting spot for the three misfits, including Sudou, as well as Kushida. When Horikita stops by with info on a witness—one Sakura Airi, based on her body language in class—she’s quick to retreat once she sees Kushida there. (Now, of course, I totally understand why she’d rather interact with Kushida as little as possible!)

The case wears on Kushida, who visits Ayanokouji in the evening. They go on a walk and discuss it, leaving their own personal issues totally aside. Ayanokouji thinks he knows why Horikita is reluctant to help Sudou: because he never learns his frikkin’ lesson and keeps getting into trouble immediately after being bailed out of it. In a case with so little to go on, Sudou’s character makeup is a huge liability, and he can’t go on like this.

That leaves the very skittish Miss Pink Hair, Pink Camera, Sakura Airi. Kushida tries to gently ask to speak with her about what she might’ve seen, but Sakura panics and tries to run off, dropping and breaking her camera. While I’m sure the data chip containing potentially conclusive photographic evidence wasn’t lost, I still know far too little about her to know what she intends to do with it, if anything.

Was Sakura, for instance, the girl who cried out at the club before that guy got beat up for suggesting there was a witness? Horikita’s bro is clearly trying to sabotage Class D (and by extension his sister); will Ayanokouji’s suspicions about the cash-flush Ichinose prove to be justified?

A lot of truth has yet to be found, and many not only like it that way but are actively trying to distort it. And now I’m out of new episodes to watch…drat.

Classroom of the Elite – 03

“Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this – no dog exchanges bones with another.” So said Adam Smith, famed Scottish economist and philosopher. It’s a lengthy, inefficient quote, as befits the times he lived in, but I like how he extends the concept out for added emphasis.

Class D may be “defective garbage” but they’re still human, and so this episode is full of those deals only humans can make. The first deals Ayanokouji makes this week involve securing test questions from a destitute upperclassman, then using the universally trusted and liked Kushida to distribute them.

As Ayanokouji tells Horitika when the class gets all high scores, Kushida is “well-suited to the role” of class hero, unlike the two of them. The flashback that covers three days before the test were, like Smith’s quote, lengthier than it had to be, but still provided more welcome texture, like Horitika’s one-on-one talk with Sudo trying to appeal to his love of basketball to get him to shape up—or Kushida telling Ayanokouji he’s sharper than she thought.

Alas, only two of the three misfits pass the exams – Sudo fails one, by less than one point against the average score (which was heightened due to so many 100s and high 90s). Ayanokouji’s gambit would seem to have failed, but he doesn’t let things stand there: he follows Chabashira-sensei to the roof to make another one of those human deals.

Chabashira’s inflexibility on Sudo’s expulsion is out of a regard for the rules. Ayanokouji appeals to what both he and his teacher know to be the truth: society is not truly equal, but rules require “at least the appearance of equal application.” To that end, he recites another rule from the first day of school: points can be used to buy anything. Anything…including one test point so Sudo passes.

Chabashira, impressed he’s been paying such close attention and that he’d bring such a bargain to hers, agrees, but for a price of 10,000, to an Ayanokouji who already spent 15,000 on the test answers. To his surprise, Horitika appears on he rooftop to pay Chabashira, citing the threat of unknown consequences to the class if Sudo or anyone else were to get kicked out.

While Chabashira is impressed, she warns these two Adam Smiths that no Class D has ever advanced to a higher tier. Now we know Horitika’s goal of Class A isn’t just a long shot—it’s unprecedented.

Nevertheless, Horitika won’t give up. Thanks to her, Sudo stays and Class D earns 87 points without Ayanokouji dipping into his dwindling point reserves. He tries to thank her, but she says everything she’s done is for her sake—even artificially lowering her score to drop the class average to something Sudo could more realistically manage. When he points this out, Horitika stabs him with a compass.

She’s signaling to him in about as visceral a way as possible that she’s no altruist, and she may have a case, as intent matters. But it cannot be denied that she has done and said things that weren’t to her immediate personal benefit in order to benefit the greater good, and made specific choices that she didn’t have to make to get the same result. In a vacuum, she was being nice to Sudo.

At a party in Ayanokouji’s dorm room, he spins a story to the others that Sudo’s expulsion was canceled by a passionate appeal to the teachers by Horitika. Is Ayanokouji just getting her back for stabbing him, or is he trying, in spite of her efforts to the contrary, to rehabilitate and burnish her reputation as someone the other students can trust and respect?

 

Whatever anyone’s intentions, the effect is the same: Kushida is pissed. So pissed, she forgets her phone, and Ayanokouji follows her to the waterfront, he’s introduced to Kushida’s other side, a bitter, fuming ball of rage. When she gets a text, Ayanokouji’s cover is blown, and he finds himself face to face with this new and frightening side.

She doesn’t mince any words. Instead, she makes a deal: he’ll tell no one what he saw there, and she won’t falsely accuse him of raping her, thrusting his hand on her chest so his fingerprints can be used as evidence. To think Kushida would stoop to such horrible tactics is a testament to her devotion to achieving her goals, which is just as intense as Horitika’s.

I’m impressed by how invested I’ve become in these three characters in just three episodes. Each week a new layer and wrinkle is added that completely flips the script. At this point, I’m not even sure Kushida didn’t plant the phone so Ayanokouji would follow her, discover her, and be forced to share another secret with her.

The question may be who is the real Kushida, but the answer could be all of them. Which brings us to the ultimate deal in Classroom of the Elite: if we the audience watch it, and keep watching, the show will keep us in rapt attention with solid stories and characterization.

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.

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 02

mgr21

This week we get to learn a bit more about the other magical girls and their various affiliations, the method by which Fav will determing which magical girls will be culled, and most importantly, the consequences of being one of those girls.

Calamity Mary is a loose cannon, in this for herself. Top Speed looks after Ripple, to whom trouble seems to always come. Ruler leads the largest alliance of girls, and won’t let anyone in her group drop out.

mgr22

While some of the girls’ abilities leave me wondering how they collect “Magical Candies” to determine who survives, with Snow White and La Pucelle there isn’t really any wonder. Koyuki is a good-deed-doing machine, and just being with her keeps Souta out of the points basement.

mgr23

Unfortunately, someone has to “go” every week for the next eight weeks, and this week is no exception. And while Nemurin’s “deeds” include saving the world and space multiple times, because she’s only doing it in people’s dreams, her candies are only dream candies.

She doesn’t seem to mind, since she’s having fun helping people in dreams. And in the real world, she’s getting ready to end her NEET status and move forward in her life, so if she’s the first to lose, it’s not that big a deal.

mgr24

Of course, things aren’t that simple. It was disquieting enough to see Nemurin’s avatar get rubbed out, followed by the curt message that she’s been “deleted.” It’s quite another matter when, after the stroke of midnight on her last night as a magical girl, Sanjou Nemu “says goodbye to everything”, and her mother finds her lying dead in her bead.

Now we know this isn’t just a competition to remain being a magical girl. These girls are fighting for their lives. Most, including Koyuki, aren’t aware of this yet. Fortunately for her, she’s at the top of the points. But that makes her a target; Ruler in particular sees her as an eyesore. We’ve got a tough, bloody, slightly frilly battle ahead of us.

16rating_8

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 01 (First Impressions)

mgr11

What is it: The story of Himekawa Koyuki, who has loved magical girls since she was a little kid, suddenly being selected to become a real magical girl by the mobile game MagiPro. She immediately set to work helping townsfolk, and the first fellow magical girl she meets in person is her childhood friend Souta, a boy. One day, MagiPro’s mascot Fav announces the number of magical girls in the region will be halved from sixteen to eight.

mgr12

Why You Should Watch: It’s above-average in terms of general looks and production values, once you get used to its character design, which tends towards the cute. Sure, Koyuki’s almost painfully earnest and naive, but the show seems fully aware of this, and unlike Gakkou Gurashi, doesn’t wait until the end of the episode to drop the hammer down.

It’s right there in the cold open: one magical girl standing over the bloodied corpses of her rivals. Even so, it’s nice to ease into this suddenly miraculous world along with Koyuki, and even though we know she’s doomed, we can still enjoy the little bit of good times she has early on. Her friend Souta’s situation is also an interesting wrinkle.

mgr13

Why You Shouldn’t Watch: The presence of over sixteen characters, most of which billed as mains, can be intimidating, and also allows for an almost overwhelming helping of moe (each magical girl has their own specific…very specific look). The show owes much to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Koyuki owes much to Madoka herself, while the format suggests a marathon/tournament on the scale of Akuma no Riddle or another Lerche series, Danganronpa.

mgr14

The Verdict: Unlike Touken Ranbu, MagiPro had a hook to it that made me invested in the protagonist and look forward to the next episode. There’s a lot of exposition in both shows, but for some reason it felt more natural and less drawn out here, and the concept was a lot simpler and, more importantly, actually executed well.

Koyuki’s transition is quick, but we feel the same wonder she feels, and the same dread when she sees the ominous word “halved” in the chat room. She’s committed to be a “pure, righteous, and beautiful” magical girl, but she may have to rethink that strategy if she doesn’t want to be a dead one.

16rating_8