SSSS.Gridman – 05 – Wear Some Damn Clothes!

SSSS.Gridman 05 is a swimsuit episode, but only peripherally. It doesn’t matter how skimpy the outfit or how piercing the male gaze, this was also an excellent episode; the best since the first, because of how it shook up established formula of previous episodes.

It did so with a savvy understanding of the universe it’s built so far and how those who live within it should feel and act. The fanservice, while abundant, never distracted from that.

Shinjou Akane is regarded not just as the idol of the class, but its goddess. So its ironic that we see her resplendently reclining…on a giant pile of bags full garbage she’s too lazy to take out. Her class is going on a rafting field trip, and the only way she sees it not being a complete hassle/waste of time is if she can manage to finally beat her nemesis Gridman.

Just as Akane is looking forward to confirming that Gridman is Yuuta and then mopping the floor with him, Yuuta is looking forward to sharing an activity with Rikka, to whom he has yet to confess his feelings. That hesitation leads to a distance between them; there’s little screen time with just the two of them.

Heck, in the first half of the episode, Akane spends more time with Rikka, even getting her to rub sunblock on her back (and jokingly asking if she’ll do her front too). Shou is embarrassed when  Rikka’s cool friends mock his paunch, but when Akane does it, he turns beet red, only seeing the surface of Akane and not the evil lurking just beneath it.

Akane also ends up spending a good amount of time one-on-one with Yuuta, remarking how they’re alike in “not being used to things like this”, this being the rafting trip and all the physical and social calisthenics involved. But again, Akane is trying to get Yuuta to admit he’s Gridman, and in a way, succeeds when, in the middle of a string of questions, she asks if he’s “transforming” and he answers in the affirmative.

One day, Yuuta, Rikka, or Shou (or heck, maybe even Hass) will confront Akane about who she truly is…but not this week. Akane’s weird question sticks in Yuuta’s head, but he has more pressing issues, like the absolutely humongous Leviathan Akane has Alexis conjure shortly after getting her confirmation.

Akane admits it might not be fair or sporting to scale up her kaiju so dramatically, but considering the losing streak she’s endured I can totally understand her desire to take the proverbial gloves off. Unlike previous conjurings, not only is this one bigger than ever, it’s in a non-urban area, and indeed is created from the lush natural landscape; a mobile mountain with jaws and two beady red eyes. Honestly…it’s kinda cute.

We’re also in uncharted territory with the Gridman Alliance nowhere near the kitbashed computer terminal that enables Yuuta to transform. They can call the shop in hopes Neon Genesis folk are there (and they are; just waiting around), but they left their cell phones in the lockers.

Yuuta and Shou run ahead (leaving Rikka to escape with the others), but while Shou has change when they find a payphone, neither knows the number to the junk store. But Rikka does, and in catching up to provide it, she demonstrates that she won’t easily break the bonds of the alliance by leaving her comrades behind so easily.

The cavalry gets the message, buys the computer from Rikka’s mom, boards the same train as Yuuta and Shou, fall asleep on that train and almost miss their stop, and set up the computer at the station where they plan to rendezvous with Yuuta.

While he takes a tumble down a hill and gets a bit scratched up, he manages to make it, and he and Borr transform into Gridmand and Buster Borr, respectively. At first glance they look comically outmatched against an opponent of such lopsided superiority in mass. The only advantage they seem to have is that the kaiju’s attacks are very slow and inaccurate.

As if they didn’t have enough to deal with, Item shows up, determined as always to fight and defeat Gridman, regardless of what Akane wants or doesn’t want. However his time on the stage as an effective combatant is brief, as Borr has a projectile for every need, from forest fire-extinguishing water missiles to super-adhesive projectiles that immobilize Item’s kaiju.

That gives Gridman and Borr time to combine and unleash a vicious barrage of weaponry at the giant kaiju, culminating in a Double Buster Grid Beam that finishes it off. From closeups to extra wide shots of exploding giant monsters, SSSS.Gridman continues to make a strong case for best-looking, most visually-imaginative anime of the season, if not the year.

Akane, once again defeated, nonchalantly slips onto the last train back home, while Yuuta, Rikka and Shou reunite and celebrate the victory. However, Rikka spots Item, and some strangely floating rocks suggest they may be celebrating prematurely.

Still, it’s good to know that whether they’re in skimpy swimsuits or not, the Gridman Alliance is strong…and that Hass doesn’t have some weird perpetual cold, but only wears her mask for show. I love little details like that (or Borr saying the words I reused in this article’s title when she spots Yuuta in nothing but swim trunks). SSSS.G is full of them.

As for Yuuta getting Rikka to notice him, well…perhaps he should see her repeated instances of catching up to be by his side—be it for practical or emotional support—as a positive sign that she might be receptive to his feelings…if only he managed to successfully tell him what they were…

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 12

As a restless Elias lounges around the house, lacking the energy to do anything even though there are things to be done, Chise completes her wand (an exhausting process) and basically “contracts” with it by sharing a bond of fate with Nevin, source of the wand’s wood.

She and Nevin meet in a nebulous space between the worlds of the living and dead. There, Nevin hears Chise out, then gets her to address her appalling lack of self-worth and confidence, believing as she has since her mother discarded her that she is readily disposable.

But rather than curse the parents who messed their kid up so much, Nevin thanks them for everything they did, because that string of actions and inactions led Chise to him, and she allowed him to fly again in his last moments.

Nevin also asks Chise to consider everything she’s done and the people she’s met and saved. If a savior such as Chise believes herself of so little value, that reflects poorly on the value of those she saved.

Having concluded her talk with Nevin, Chise returns to the regular world, and wishes to head back home so she can say the things she needs to say to Elias. Can I just say how it feels like she gives us this spiel about wanting to say things left unsaid in every episode, and yet it never happens.

This episode is no exception, though I can forgive it for using the conceit of Chise simply running out of energy, because she did, after all, use her wand to fly home by herself, utilizing fire faeries to transform herself into an elegant phoenix.

Visual similarities to Ghibli films notwithstanding, Phoenix-Chise’s extended journey through the sky was a high point of the episode, with Chise relying on her own power and embracing both the freedom her new wand allows her and the more advanced magic she, a sleigh beggy, can pull off with ease.

The trip knocks her out, and she has a dream involving her parents unlike any other she’d had before: a dream in which her mother isn’t crying or angry, but rather happy and smiling, even at Chise.

We see a glimpse of her life that she had forgotten, as it had likely been buried under years of emotional trauma. Her mom, pregnant with her little sister, and her dad, enjoying a lovely sunny day.

That’s the day that awaits Chise back home in the waking world, albeit with a sky full of floating sheep insects waiting to be shorn. After a bath and breakfast, Chise slips back into the warm comfort of her life as an ancient mage’s apprentice. Realizing the “bride” part, however, will require more time.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 11

Lindel’s fireside infodump-er-saga with Chise continues as he recounts his early travels with his new apprentice Elias. While making a house visit to heal a sick child, the child’s sister has “the sight” and spots Elias in Lindel’s shadow.

The girl assumes it’s an evil demon, and before long the entire village is mobilized against Lindel and Elias. When Lindel is injured by a thrown rock, Elias loses his temper and attacks the villagers with his thorny vine appendages, basically confirming their worst fears.

And here is the start of the trouble with Elias Ainsworth that I’ve had for the past ten weeks; a problem no closer to being solved in its eleventh. As Lindel’s master noted, he has a tiny amount of human in him, but there just isn’t enough humanity for me to fully emotionally connect.

That’s made any exploration of Elias and Chise’s relationship—in terms of her status as his future wife—feel incomplete and unsatisfying. As Lindel said to Chise, Elias “seemed to be missing something”, and for me, he’s still missing it.

(There’s also the little matter of Elias having a vague memory of—and occasionally feeling the urge to—eat humans, though Chise claims she’s never once feared Elias, even during that tense bed scene.)

But perhaps I’m not being open-minded enough with the premise that it isn’t that Elias isn’t human enough, but that for all the years he’s lived, Elias is still a child, and not just in Lindel’s eyes.

As a child, he’s insecure, emotionally stunted, and prefers the shadows. Chise, with her own stunted childhood, is in a similar state, leaving us with two would-be “lovers” who really have no clue what they’re doing.

A large part of that is neither Elias nor Chise have really taken the time to dig that deeply into who they are and what they want, aside from the big things like “survival” and “being wanted/needed”.

But never mind that for now; we’ve got a long way to go with these two crazy kids. For now, Chise gets tossed back into the water by baby dragons, meets a leviathan (neat!) and then sets to work whittling down a wooden log into her wand, which is meant to be an introspective process.

When night falls, Lindel, AKA Echos, sings the song of a hundred flowers, and all number of magical beings emerge and join in a dance. Chise dances for the first time, and then inadvertently opens a “water mirror” through which she can communicate directly with Elias.

Chise says Elias “looks troubled”, which is a bit silly since his bony face never really changes that much, and then the two remark at how much they miss one another, despite not having been apart all that long.

Home is cold without Chise, and Chise wants to show Elias the beautiful scene Lindel has created. “Two kids”, as Lindel said, both trying to figure out who they are and what the other person means to them.

And since Chise has learned so much about Elias—things he couldn’t or wouldn’t say—she wants to reveal to him more about her self; something she hasn’t yet been able to do to her satisfaction.

Qualidea Code – 04

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Qualidea Code is a flawed show, but it’s showed signs of incremental improvement in the last two episodes. Lask week solved the “not enough peril” problem; while this week fixes Ichiya’s “boundless bluster” problem, delivering a much-needed dose of Canaria’s humility.

Indeed, while the turnabout in his personality was, uh, rapid, rapid change is possible in the midst of the person he cares more about than anyone else getting seriously hurt in a battle he instigated.

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As the exterior peril intensifies, internal strife fades away for the good of the whole group. Thus Ichiya’s improved personality raises all boats, showing that when the going (finally) gets tough, he can count on his fellow heads and their subheads.

Ichiya presents this new-and-improved, common sense-armed self to the adult bosses, who endorse his plan to ally with Kanagawa and Chiba to defeat the Leviathan properly.

He’s learned his lesson, and hopefully retired his tired catchphrase “I’m all we need.” Clearly both he and they need more than just him; they need each other, working together.

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His new plan for attack is neither nonsensical nor reckless; it is actually pretty by-the-book and straightforward, with each city playing to its strengths in an effort to distract, misdirect, and get through the armor of the Unknown.

Ichiya also leaves Aoi in charge of keeping an eye on Cana, who wakes up shortly after he departs for battle. She immediately sits up and gets dressed to catch up with him, but while Aoi tries to stop her, her fellow Tokyo broom-riders suggest a shortcut and for Aoi to accompany them.

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Kazumi uses explosives and something called “dead space” to suspend their assault train into a position from which the ground forces can attack, while Hime surfaces her submarine carrier right beside the enemy to deliver a blow that still isn’t quite enough.

Turns out, the five fighting the battle can’t defeat the Leviathan without their sixth, Canaria, who comes in singing and buffing everyone around her. Realizing he’s stronger with everyone than all alone, Ichiya scoops up Hime and flies her to the spot she needs to get to to take out the Leviathan.

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Remember what I said about QC being flawed? Well, while the peril is nicely pitched and the characters have gotten more interesting…the animation during the climax of the battle stinks, with the frame-rate dropping until it’s just a Powerpoint deck of still shots.

The show tries to pass this off as a “slowing of time” effect for enhanced drama, but actually has the opposite effect since at the end of the day, things weren’t really animated at a crucial part of the episode. The result was underwhelming and sloppy.

However, the episode makes up for that a bit with the aftermath, when Ichiya takes Cana back the hospital on his back and everyone celebrates a great victory….only for tragedy to suddenly, unexpectedly strike once more.

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A post-credits scene with Ichiya and Cana has all the makings of a quiet epilogue to close the episode out, but for Asanagi’s shocked, pained reactions to seeing something on Aoi’s neck, indicating she, Cana, and the others who broke Cana out of the hospital went through a “no-entry zone.” We also see flashing red lights in the ocean, and one of those foreboding seagulls gets killed in the sky.

Just as Ichiya is telling Canaria he’s asking for a demotion that would swap their ranks, making her head, and telling her how he doesn’t care about anyone in the world as much as her, a huge mass falls out of the sky and smites Canaria. One moment, she’s there smiling, the next, a perfectly circular hole in the ground, and a spot of blood in the water.

I’m not sure exactly what happened here, and it surely adds to the mystery of what the adults aren’t telling the kids. But whatever we learn or however Ichiya deals, killing off a likable main character in the fourth episode is a bold move.

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Qualidea Code – 03

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In its third and final trial week (to determine if it’s worth watching), Qualidea Code presents its best episode yet, fixing the issues of the first two by further developing Ichiya, greatly upping the peril, and aside from a brief changing scene, ditching unnecessary skin.

It also introduces us to a potentially dark side of life in this new world, as those not up to snuff being transferred “inside” is talked about in weary tones, and a burden the adults must bear. Ichiya skips out on daily patrol to meet with a former subordinate who is being transferred inside due to injury.

He feels embarrassed to be acting so nice and considerate, but he is. But the patrol that sorties without him comes afoul of a new type of Unknown; the biggest and toughest yet and quickly called Leviathan-class.

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This is more like it. With Umihotaru and the Aqua Line under enemy control, the Unknown now have a beachhead upon which they can orchestrate a large-scale assault on the remainder of civilization. Kasumi wonders out loud why Ichiya wasn’t leading his patrol, and despite having a good reason, Ichiya stays tight-lipped and orders Cana to do the same.

Still, Ichiya blames himself for this mess, and looking over an old coloring book (where one mostly red-filled page documents the doomsday when the Unknown arrived), remembers he promised himself to get stronger in order to protect Canaria.

Cana pays Ichiya a visit, and sees the book entry, but Ichiya has already gone off on his own to fight the Leviathan.

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It’s a really, really dumb idea, but it fits who Ichiya is, and I wasn’t altogether sure he definitely would fail to beat the thing on his own. That being said, Cana makes sure to reach out to the two other heads and subheads, telling them what Ichiya has done and asking for their help.

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In the meantime, Canaria and the rest of Ichiya’s squad join Ichiya on the field of an excellent night battle, which Ichiya gets started off right by laying waste to dozens of lesser Unknowns in an attempt to awaken the hidden Leviathan from the sea.

Cana starts to sing to buff everyone, and the battle intensifies, aided by the pulsing soundtrack and light-dark contrast of the magical weaponry in the night. Ichiya even takes command of his people and coordinates their actions with a concentration on self-protection so that he can take on the tower alone, confident Cana and the others will be safe.

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But just when Ichiya is about to deliver the decisive blow you thought would wrap this episode up in a neat little bow, Cana’s voice gives out, her song and its effect stops, and Ichiya’s strike fails.

Looking back at an unconscious, bloodied Cana, Ichiya surprises us again by ordering a retreat, just as the Unknown Leviathan rises out of the water, showing that the gigantic tower was only the tip of a very vast iceberg.

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This is definitely more like it: no easy battle with easy outcome. Ichiya made mistakes this week, and he has to pay for them. The life of the one person he can’t fight or live without is suddenly in danger, and he’s simply not strong enough to defeat the foe before him. He’s not all they need, in other words.

As for Asuha, Kasumi, Hime and Hotaru, they’re on their way to Umihotaru in their preferred modes of transport, answering Cana’s call for help. Asuha is heartened by how quickly her bro sprang into action, despite his official hatred of Ichiya. He’ll need all of them to get through this.

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