Iroduku: The World in Colors – 04 – Fewer Colors, More Understanding

When Kohaku arrived she looked so bright and confident I feared her light would completely envelop Hitomi. But instead of a bright sun blinding everything else in its vicinity, Kohaku proves to be a warm sun, embracing Hitomi just as her granny would…because she is her granny. She takes that role very seriously without pulling herself out of her own present.

Immediately, Kohaku attracts a lot of attention, especially when she “transports” her class to England by casting an illusion spell that puts the class into a photo. It would seem her penchant for causing mayhem at school rears its head when an illusory steam locomotive covers everyone with soot and smoke.

That night, at the ridiculously awesome Tsukishiro residence, Hitomi and Kohaku talk before bed, about how Hitomi not knowing precisely why she’s there or for how long, in other words not knowing what will come next, is exciting. She also shows Hitomi a photo of a train that was in the album she held; the magic train was her doing; she has magic power, it’s just hidden and dormant, only coming out under certain circumstances.

And for all the havoc she’s wreaked over the years, Kohaku maintains that magic should only be used to help people and to make them happy. She considers magic to be a gift from God, and its the duty of every mage given such a gift to give it back to the world through happiness.

The photography arts club is a happy bunch, with Chigusa and Kurumi slowly growing together (though Kurumi puts on a front of loathing and Chigusa pretends to be aloof). They go on the high school roof at night to take photos of the skyline.

Yuito tells Hitomi that seeing only in monochrome can have its advantages. She’s able to see or understand things color normally obscures for everyone else. The gang also learns that Hitomi is Kohaku’s granddaughter from sixty years into the future…and they’re perfectly fine with it (for the most part).

The two Tsukishiro mages cap off the night by transcribing Yuito’s tablet drawing of a train into the sky. They’re using magic to help their friends by making them happy. The next day while going over their shots, Kohaku officially joins the club and adds “magic” to its name,  making it the “Magic Photography Arts Club.”

Rather than someone who was going to shove Hitomi out of relevance, Kohaku is a net positive to the group, strong and self-assured in every way Hitomi is not, but also warm, generous, and loving. Knowing Hitomi is from the future worries Yuito, because he doesn’t know if or when she’ll return there. I imagine such worries are premature; Hitomi still has a lot left to experience in the past.

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Iroduku: The World in Colors – 03 – Someday Works Just Fine

Yuito’s words echo in Hitomi’s mind, as she now has a reason to explore her magic—so she can “someday” show it to him again, as he showed her his art. Each of them did something that made them vulnerable but came with the reward of growing just a little closer.

Still, the fact is Hitomi really isn’t that good at magic, even if she has the potential within her. To unlock it she’ll need to practice; her great-grandmother suggests she use a “wand” in the form of a Pocky to help focus while doing so. No harm in trying something new a little at a time.

She’ll also need practice finding a place at the school, which is practically fanatical about clubs. Both faculty and students insist she join one, but believes her achromatopsia precludes her from joining Yuito & Co’s photography arts club; conveniently forgetting the existence of black and white photography (though to be fair, she is from sixty years in the future).

When Yuito has her dive into the arts part of the club by painting a picture, her treatment of color all but confirms to him her inability to see them, at least as others do. Still, he’s quite sincere in his appraisal, and considering she’d “never drawn a picture” before, she did quite well!

From there she gets drawn more and more into the photo/arts club’s activities that day, from accompanying them as they recruit potential new members, to serving as a model during a dreamlike shoot at the pool.

While she fails to use the star sand that enables one to walk on water, she isn’t aware she picked the wrong color, and her own magic allows her to walk on it anyway…until one of the club members tells her she picked the wrong one, and she plunges into the drink.

Upon drying herself, Yuito comes to apologize, but she believes it just as much her fault for not refusing strongly enough (I don’t know, I thought she refused pretty dang strongly; they just ignored her!) Indeed, her tendency to so easily say there’s “no way” she can do something, or that she stay out of people’s way to make it “easier for everyone.”

Thankfully, she does decide that she can join the arts/photography club, and even helps them with their punishment of cleaning the pool into which they weren’t allowed to let anyone jump. Meanwhile, her grandmother Kohaku is almost home, and she seems to be someone who doesn’t just think, but knows she can do anything, and does it. In other words, she’s someone Hitomi could probably use in her life right now.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 02 – A (Little) Star Is Born

Hitomi wants to see Yuito’s vivid drawing again, but he’s preoccupied with the fact she broke into his room. Fair enough; it is a crime, not to mention a hassle for someone who clearly hates hassles. Hitomi has no choice but to tell the truth—it’s the magic’s fault—and hope he believes her.

Fortunately, he does, and accepts her apology without further trouble. Unfortunately, he scoots off before Hitomi can ask about his drawing. In the meantime, Hitomi isn’t sure what to do now that she’s in the future past, so her great-grandparents enroll her at Kohaku’s high school for the time being.

We only see a still image of Kohaku, but I found it exceedingly amusing that the mild-mannered granny of Hitomi’s time was such a wild child menace sixty years in the past, her presence is felt even in her absence, like some kind of Sauron-like supervillain!

Kohaku, with her frequent destructive exploits, has single-handedly given all mages a bad name, so it’s only natural that the students at school would be weary of Hitomi. If only they knew how much she can’t stand magic!

Well, they get a slight demonstration of that contempt when, in front of dozens of witnesses, among them her new acquaintances with the photography club, Hitomi proves she’s a mage by creating a very tiny, dim star that only sparkles for a moment.

And yet, even that poor showing represented the best Hitomi had probably done in months if not years. As a self-styled loather of magic, she never practiced, so whatever natural magical ability may dwell within her, she stinks at it because it’s like a totally unused, atrophied muscle.

Hitomi finds Yuito drawing on the rooftop after school, and offers an apology for causing such a stir. Yuito apologizes right back for forcing her to prove she was a mage when he could have simply trusted her word. Hitomi is surprised by his contriteness, but also uses it to ask to see his drawing one more time, as it’s something “special” to her.

This week I came to identify both Hitomi’s latent magic and Yuito’s private drawings as representing parts of themselves they’re loath to reveal to others, as if they were parts of their hearts or souls. Even though Yuito loves drawing while Hitomi hates magic, both of them would rather not show it to others…right up to the point they met each other.

Now, as one of Yuito’s friends observes later, Hitomi might not find magic to be that bad after all, as she’s practicing her star-making and has clearly already improved markedly from her previous attempt. In her case and in Yuito’s, all about who you show it to, and why.

I’m kinda glad Kohaku didn’t appear for at least one more week; I feel like her blowing in like a storm would have disrupted the delicate initial bonds forming between Hitomi and Yuito, not to mention even more adversely affect her first impression at school. We’ll see how the dynamic shifts when young Kohaku returns.

Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara – 01 (First Impressions) – Modest Magic

That term up top, modest magic, is used by the protagonist Tsukishiro Hitomi to describe her practice of repeating the same thing over and over in her head—in this case, that she’ll be fine alone—until it eventually comes true. It’s a spell, but a very simple one, and yet, it’s done all the time and it often works.

However, it doesn’t seem to be working too well for Hitomi; ever since her best friends in life left town, the color in the world has slowly drained from her sight. Even on a dazzling night of fireworks, she sees everything as a flat, even monochrome.

Classmates invite her to join the festivities, but Hitomi has promised to meet her grandmother Kohaku at a certain spot. There, Kohaku presents her with a device that will enable Hitomi to travel back in time. Why exactly she’s having Hitomi doing this (and why Hitomi doesn’t seem to have a say in the matter) are not explained.

But perhaps, like in Kiki’s Delivery Service, this is just the right time for a mage of Hitomi’s age to do what her granny is having her do; an initiation of sorts. The time travel is depicted as a ride aboard a bus driving through a glittering blue either of countless floating images.

Continuing the whimsical transition, after paying the strange magical creature that’s driving the bus a fare of cookie sticks (or something?) Hitomi alights and falls straight through the ground—which is made of clouds—and lands hard in the bedroom of some random guy (or is it random that she lands there?)

What doesn’t seem to be random is when she is. Her grandmother’s spell was aimed at sending her back to when she herself was in high school, which was about sixty years ago…in other words, our present year 2018. Once there, granny promised, Hitomi would eventually learn why she had to go, ostensibly by learning from her granny’s own high school-age self.

When the guy comes home and enters his room, Hitomi hides under the bed, and when he steps out, she escapes out the window (the mechanical latch for which briefly flummoxes the girl from the voice-activated future). While escaping, a classmate of the boy to which room belongs captures video footage, presuming the boy (whom she identifies as Aoi) was up to no good.

Once she escapes, it’s confirmed: Hitomi has traveled to the past. The glittering, skyscraper-packed skyline of her time has been seriously downsized. It looks a bit different, but it feels the same.

Those same classmates who saw her go out Aoi’s window spot her looking lost and confused, but don’t judge, and happily lead her to her destination: the town magic shop. Whatever the condition of the shop sixty years in the future, in 2018 it’s bustling, with folk young and old availing themselves of the wares.

Hitomi is disappointed to learn that Kohaku, her grandmother, is currently away on a trip to England, with no certain return date. But Kohaku’s grandmother—i.e., Hitomi’s great-great grandmother—is there, and believes both Hitomi’s letter and her story.

She sets Hitomi up in the spare room in the attic of the house, which Hitomi learns is practically brand-new in 2018. She remembers the house and the room as being much older of course, and a cozy, comforting place where she was once read bedtime stories.

There’s a coziness to the show at this point that pervades her interactions with her relatives. It may be a different time, but it’s the same family, and they’re just as warm and kind back then as they are in 2078.

The next morning, Hitomi sets off to initiate a search for her azurite earring. Turns out it’s already been found—by Aoi’s nosy mother, who heard rumors of a girl jumping out his son’s window. She’s not mad at Yuito (Aoi’s first name), but as a single mother would prefer her son’s girlfriend properly left out the front door. The thing is, Yuito has no idea what she’s talking about…and he’s not lying!

Yuito’s house is where Hitomi decides to start, but just as she approaches it he exits, and she decides to follow him instead. Keep in mind, her whole world remains stubbornly monochrome at this point…until she finds him sitting in a park, drawing on a tablet.

His drawing is the first thing in a long time she’s seen in color, and the shapes spill out and dance around, adding vivid color back to the entire world around her. It’s only temporary, however, and once she snaps out of it, Hitomi finds she was dancing and twirling in front of Yuito like a total weirdo, and he asks her who the heck she is.

Thus begins P.A. Works’ latest original series, which proves to be a different kind of modest magic, as many their works tend to be. Irozuku isn’t overly flashy (despite having literal fireworks in its opening moments), but rather so far is a quiet and delicate, yet rich and sumptuous affair. Animation, character design, and soundtrack are all top-notch; even KyoAni-esque.

Personally, the moment she saw color on the tablet caused goosebump-inducing. That was also the moment I was sold on this show. Its solid technical bona fides are there, but Hitomi herself isn’t as immediately charming as, say, Shirahane Yukina (though Ishihara Kaori has the chops to remedy that). In any case, I’m definitely going forward with this.

Punchline – 04

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P[anty]line continued its trend of creating more questions than it answers. It tosses a lot of plot and character elements out, hoping some of them stick to the wall, and some of them do. But its small successes are undermined by a stubborn lack of focus, and its underlying. There’s a lot of juicy intrigue lurking beneath the surface, but PL doesn’t seem that interested in letting us in. It’s un-ironic propensity for showing panties for panties’ sake doesn’t inspire confidence it ever will.

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Part of our frustration stems from Yuuta’s molasses-slow progress. Sure, he’s now able to manipulate objects and even briefly possesses and talks through Rabura, but this progress is meaningless if he doesn’t capitalize on it. All he manages to do in his seven minutes as Rabura is thoroughly confuse the girls.

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For the rest of the episode, Yuuta is back to being an inert observer. Instead we’re treated to a weird date Rabura set up with a gentleman caller she claims is from Gliese 832c, who turns out to be an NSA agent who was only using Rabura to try to initiate contact with Daihatsu Meika, whom the U.S. believes is the best person to try to eliminate the virus enabling the Qmay Group to prevent the launch of orbital nukes at an approaching asteroid. If the agent is to be believes, Qmay is actively trying to eliminate the human race. So I guess they’re nihilists?

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Rabura isn’t happy about being used, but still protects “Gliese-sama” when he’s attacked by “Miya-ken”, which brings me to my next grievance with this show, along with its scattered nature: I really don’t like Miya-ken. After Samurai Flamenco, I’m all hapless Super Sentai’d out. He helped out last week, but his presence here is baffling, and not in the way that makes me want to find out.

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I liked how the NSA agent created a rift between Rabura and Meika, with the former taking out her frustrations on the latter. There’s a familial vibe to their drying-off around the kontatsu scene, but then Rabura’s frustration leads her to lash out at Ito, who then turns on Mikatan, mocking her efforts to be the “good girl” and “hero.”

All this fresh clashing of obviously very different personalities is welcome, but it all feels a but rushed and inorganic, especially considering what we’ve learned from these characters thus far via flashbacks. Speaking of those, in the one in the cold open, we see a young Mikatan as one of many captive child test subjects. But it left on the back burner the rest of the episode, like Yuuta’s half-assed possession attempt.

This show is full of enticing tastes of things, but at the end of the day it’s just a bit too all over the place.

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Punchline – 03

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Punchline has generally a lot of fun to watch, but I’ve found myself struggling to like it as much as I want to, mainly due to its erratic personality. Rather than simply straddle various genres, it tries to operate in every genre, which is a tough proposition for any new show on the block, because it risks not offering enough of one thing to satisfy anyone. It’s throwing everything but the kitchen sink at us, but I’m almost too busy dodging it all to appreciate when something sticks.

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It’s one thing to keep your audience guessing or on their toes; it’s another to frustrate them by constantly tripping them up. So, did this third episode do anything to put the show’s meandering milieu into focus? Yes and no.  It offered perhaps more randomness than previous two episodes, but it gradually built the foundation of something recognizable and admirable, which is this: Korai House is no ordinary teanament.

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“Yeah, we kinda figured that,” you say, but while we knew everything was weird, we didn’t know why until now. Korai house, in fact, is the headquarters for a force for good, in a world that may be ending on the 31st of December. As such, it has drawn numerous seemingly disparate individuals into its walls.

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This all comes to the fore when, in a random attack by some weird masked commando with a turtle biting his junk destroys Mikatan’s mask in an effort to kidnap Ito’s pet bear cub, revealing the secret identity Mikatan worked so hard to keep from Ito, Mrs. Doubtfire-style, before.

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Another “freak” appears in a spandex bodysuit, who is ineffectual against the commando at first, but beats him back with authority after a brief trip into Korai House to do…something that powers him up.

We also get the reveal that Meika is a robot built by a famous genius inventor who told her one day a girl (Mikatan) would come to Korai and Meika would raise her up to be the superheroine she is now. I’m guessing bodysuit guy’s a robot too.

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How the scientist knew all that, along with how the bear healed from a bad knife wound so quickly, and how, if ever, Yuuta will get his body back, are questions that remain unanswered this week. But even though there was still a lot of volatility in the storytelling, I came away from this third episode with a slightly clearer picture of what’s going on.

What still concerns me, however, is the humor, which can be juvenile and obvious at times. Meika and Mikatan’s easily misinterpretable chat elicited some chuckles, but Yuuta blowing up the world at the slightest glance at panties is wearing thin fast.

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Punchline – 02

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First, the good news: Punchline doesn’t belabor its admittedly dumb “guy gains power by looking at panties” concept; in fact, he doesn’t blow up the Earth once this week! Instead, there was quite a bit of halfway-decent world-building in play this week, with the world in question being Korai House, which feels like a purgatory where its tenants are safe from the harsh reality of the outside world.

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The bad news is that Chiranousuke the cat’s perverted character is already played out, because he’s little more than a font of exposition and lame boob jokes. Also, Yuuta has very little to do this week, and while I like the fact the show feels it doesn’t need to rely on its protagonist to carry and episode, nearly excising him from just the second episode when we barely knew him was a risk. I’m not sure it totally paid off, but I appreciate the fact such a risk was made.

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Mikatan acts as a kind of a cupid of cheer this week, even as she rushes to switch off the TV when her super-heroic alter ego is being interviewed. Here at Korai House, her heroism is limited to offering apple pie, cinnamon, and understanding to Lovera, who is depressed about being a fake exorcist who doesn’t even believe in spirits.

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Despite this, she wants to carry on her family legacy. And while spirit-Yuuta doesn’t do much, he does manage to break a vase Lovera was trying to get the spirit she thinks is there to break. We also get a flashback similar to the one in which he met Mikatan, in which we learn that Yuuta’s sister was once a tenant too, which is how he knew and became pretty close to Lovera. Not romantically, mind you (there’s a clear age difference), but as a little brother-slash-shoulder to cry (or complain) on.

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As Yuuta floats about unseen and unheard, the girls unite in the room of Ito, who despite several increasingly desperate and funny attempts to do so, is unable to conceal the fact she’s harboring a rescue bear cub, in violation of Korai House’s no-pets policy. Meika is ready to throw the book at Ito, but Mika and Lovera talk her down, convincing her to allow further investigation of said abandoned bear prior to summary judgment.

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After the confrontation in Ito’s room, Mika joins Meika on the roof (where Yuuta is also hanging out) and ponders why Ito is a hermit who no longer goes to school. We then flash back to Yuuta playing a video game and then hearing someone shouting next door as he’s beaten, confirming that the person who beat him is in fact his neighbor Ito. Her truancy has afforded her ample time to get very good at MMOs.

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This is my favorite Yuuta flashback, because he neither bumped into Ito nor knew her through his older sister. Rather, the two met each other through an activity they mutually enjoy, and sensing she was in need of a little escape, showed her a beautiful secret place in the game even she didn’t know about. He’s not able to say much without being branded “insensitive”, but he was able to do something that put a smile on her face.

Then Mika (and we) learn what he knows from Meika: that her father is a powerful politician who essentially disowned her because she was a liability. Furthermore, even as her neighbors plan a party to cheer her up, she appears on an online New Year’s list of “victims,” making us curious as to what “craziness” exactly went down at school to cause her to stop going.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 14

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There’s no time for Rin and Shirou to lick their wounds and sulk. They’re clear about what they think of each other (Shirou has fallen for Rin, while Rin “doesn’t exactly hate” Shirou) Now that they’re back at square one, there’s nothing for it but cooking dinner and coming up with a plan. They come up with the same thing I was expecting, which also makes the most sense: try to ally themselves with Illya and Berserker. They won’t get anywhere against Caster and her expanding entourage without a Servant.

Oh, and I liked how Rin and Shirou’s tea cups were sitting on that table.

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From there we cut to Caster at the church, making me worry that she’s going to have these repetitive Queen Beryl-style scenes all season, but then we dive into her backstory, and her previous Master, who was a shit-stain-and-a-half.

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Even Caster seems a bit put off with him using little kids as human sacrifices in his hi-tech mana mill…but she plays it more as being put out, stating its far too wasteful of life. She doesn’t go so far as to suggest she feels any sympathy for her master’s chattel, but orders the workshop shut down, and order her Master ignores, because he’s her Master. Furthermore, he uses a command seal to ensure she’ll never betray him with Noble Phantasm, as she has a bit of a reputation in this regard.

He also smacks her around, just to burnish that fresh, clean, asshole sheen of his.

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However, Caster’s a very old and very crafty Servant, and this guy seems a few grails short of a chalice, so she’s able to defeat him without too much trouble by using Rule Breaker on herself, releasing her from his control so she can engulf him in flames.

She…ahem…also freed the fifty-or-so children her ex-Master was planning to sacrifice.There’s still quite a bit of righteous Princess Medea in Caster, and it’s implied that her reputation as a treacherous witch isn’t entirely deserved…though her body of work last season obviously didn’t endear her to us, it’s nice to know she’s been twisted into what she is today because of her past.

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Before she killed him, Caster’s ex-Master put a hit out on her, which is answered by Lancer (sorry, not trying to rhyme there.) Master-less, bloodied, and left for dead, she’s eventually found by Kuzuki Souichirou, who takes her in and agrees to become her new Master, because it’s kind of her only hope. She showed compassion for those kids, and was showed compassion by the universe in return by being saved by Kuzuki. You give a little, you get a little.

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Of course, we can’t quite canonize the good princess quite yet…she’s still the primary enemy of our heroes, who are on their way to meet the enemy of their enemy Illya, who has a little fun with Rin and the shock barrier. Illya has a vague memory involving Shirou or Shirou’s dad (I have no idea what, mind you) which is enough to entice her to allow them an audience. Her chambermaid Sella doesn’t think this is a good idea, but Illya sends her and Leysritt out to capture them nevertheless.

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That’s when the chambermaids’ way is blocked by Matou Shinji, making his first appearance since teaming up with the Blonde Guy. Sella and Leysritt, homonculi both, are no match for his shitload-of-weapons-summoning ability, in a brutal smackdown full of striking images. Matou Shinji’s stomach turns a bit at the horrifying power of his new Servant.

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So what would have been a simple matter of Rin and Shirou visiting with Illya and negotiating an alliance is completely blown up by Blonde Guy, who for all we knew planned this attack knowing the two servant-less masters were en route. Between Shinji/Blonde Guy and Illya/Berserker, it’s not that hard for me to pick a side, but we should be in for a good fight bloodbath next week regardless.

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Punchline – 01 (First Impressions)

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Sakamichi no Apollon. Zankyou no Terror. Shingeki no Bahamut. GARO. All shows from the Maruyama Animation Produce Project Association, or MAPPA. All regarded by RABUJOI staffers as well worth the effort of watching them.

Which brings us to Punchline. Despite knowing nothing about it going in, I knew it probably wouldn’t be crap, because nothing from MAPPA has been crap. Disappointing or inconsistent in parts, perhaps? Sure. But each of those other shows also had sparks of true greatness that again, made us glad we tuned in.

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In the first five minutes, our ignorance of what Punchline is about was thoroughly washed away, and the protagonist Yuuta gains superpowers and saves a bus full of people, along with the two young women who were trying to save said bus. And how do those powers awaken, you might ask? When he sees a woman’s panties. That’s right: his powers turn on…when he turns on. Which…I’m not going to lie, is kinda dumb. BUT.

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Fortunately, fanservice and sophomoric hero dynamics aren’t all Punchline has to offer. Right after saving that bus, the bad guy possesses his body and kicks his spirit—everything that makes Yuuta Yuuta—out, leaving him a roaming, body-less spirit.

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Even so, his powers are still activated by the sight of panties, but if he gets too turned on, he ends up incinerating the Earth. Ask me how I know all this (yes, it was a talking cat…why the heck wouldn’t it be?) The cat is able to turn back time and un-destroy the world, so Yuuta has a second chance to look for a book that will help him get his body back.

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He does so by searching his apartment building, which is naturally populated by a colorful mess of comely females: the pink-haired idol Narugino Mikatan (Amamiya Sora), the layabout blonde glasses girl Hikotani Ito (Kotobuki Minako), the brunette gadget girl Daihatsu Meika (Kugimiya Rie), and the green-haired spiritual medium Lovera (or Rabera) Chichibu (Tomatsu Haruka).

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Interestingly, Yuuta himself is voiced by a female, namely Inoue Marina (whom I know best as Zetsubou-sensei’s Kitsu Chiri). That’s one strong voice cast, and they all excel at bringing their distinctively-designed charges to life. None of them can see him, but Lovera can sorta detect him, being a medium and all. We’ll see how he ends up reconnecting with them.

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Still, even she doesn’t detect him this week. Instead, Yuuta resolves not to get to excited and re-destroy the earth, and meanwhile Meika scours the news for bad guys doing bad stuff and sends out Mikatan in her alter ego as superheroine “Strange Orange.”

Her maho-shojo-style transformation scene is nicely subverted by a picture-in-picture showing what’s actually going on: that she’s just doing an awkward little dance and has to put on her costume the old-fashioned way. That means disrobing in front of Yuuta, who somehow manages to suppress an apocalyptic reaction.

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The anointment of powers on Yuuta through means that ensure a steady dose of ecchi will pervade Punchline is mitigated by the fact that other than his heroic bus act he doesn’t have that dominating a role in this episode, despite the fact he’s in almost every frame. He’s an inert observer, watching a side of his neighbors he never knew. I also enjoyed all the various elaborate ways his nose ended up bleeding. There’s quite  a bit of appealing Kill la Kill zaniness to the animation in general.

There’s also  whole double-edged sword of those powers of his, which demand a certain degree of moderation and restraint—a lesson I hope Punchline will take to heart. When he does blow up the world a second time, before the very cute (and non-ecchi) credits roll—it’s not because he perversely seeks out girls’ panties, but simply the fact that a “Chekhov’s loose thread” in Meika’s knit dress gets caught in Mikatan’s motorcycle, causing it to rapidly unravel. IT COULD HAPPEN TO ANYBODY.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 13

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When UBW’s first season wrapped three months ago, things were in a very bad way, and they only get worse this week, although from one perspective, perhaps it’s best that what happened happened for the sake of moving forward.

That may not quite explain why Saber is in such a suggestive position with the back of her gown hiked up, but that’s a small detail; suffice it to say she’s trying to fight Caster. She’s not yet a full thrall, but she has to fight her own body to resist.

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With Shirou no longer Saber’s Master, and still recovering from his severe wounds, this first episode back is full of doubt and dread, with the feeling that everything is high up in the air…and extremely breakable, so when it all comes down it will shatter. But that hopelessness only goes so far. We know Shirou will make a comeback in some form or another, it’s only a question of where and when.

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That where and when is decidedly not here and now, but Shirou still can’t keep his nose out of Holy Grail business. Which is just as well, as we find out later.

The moment Rin mentioned part of why she was going after Caster now was so that she could restore Saber to Shirou and thus restore their alliance, I knew Archer would have some misgivings about such a plan. What I didn’t expect is that those misgivings would be strong enough for him to straight-up betray Rin and join Caster.

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To be fair, Archer is a super-pragmatic guy who follows strength and goes with the odds, not ideals or hope or emotion. Rin’s motivations stunk of all three. He also warned her several times whether she really wanted to visit Caster, perhaps knowing what he’d do when they did. The fact he’s pieced together the fact she’s the famed, peerless Princess Medea made that choice all the easier.

Still, Archer’s still a billowing billowing dickweed for turning his cloak on Rin, especially in the middle of their battle. Yet, rather than allow Caster to finish Rin and Shirou (who leapt out from the shadows to save her), he makes their survival a condition of him joining her.

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Why the sentimentality all of a sudden? Aren’t the weak useless? Perhaps part of him hopes Rin will come back stronger than ever to wrest him from Caster’s grip…even if he knows she’ll never forgive him for this. Rin, for her part, promises she’ll do just that.

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Now that Rin and Shirou are in the same boat. It looks as if the two could be walking home as if they’d simply stayed at school late doing club activities, rather than walking away from their captive servants; one taken against her will, one who went over willingly. They lost the big game, having come up a bit short, but they’re still alive, and not out of it yet. Shirou insists the best thing to do is to go home, rest, and formulate their next move.

When Rin asks Shirou why he went into that church with that injury, he tells her how her raw emotional wounds must hurt far more than his shoulder, and promises she can whine and gripe about it all she wants when they get home, and he’ll listen gladly; a gesture that moves her to tears.

 

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Later, atop a starlit hill, Shirou confesses why he really saved her life: because he has feelings for her; feelings he’s no longer afraid to report. Having just witnessed such unbridled honesty, Rin dispenses some of her own, thanking him for coming to her rescue, admitting how happy it made her that he saved her.

I for one was delighted that this season wasted no time addressing this couple. Saying such things took a lot of guts for both of them, but considering how much those guts have been punched of late, the time was nigh for the walls to come down and for the truth to come out in the open. It was also a welcome glimmer of hope in a dark sea of doom and gloom.

If they had the strength to be honest about their feelings, it bodes well for them working together to come up with some way to get their servants back.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 12 (Fin)

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Wisely choosing to go with a near hour-long format for its final episode until April 2015, F/sn also finds the magic of its first two episodes, which were responsible for immersing us in this show to begin with. There’s a heroic, almost intimidating scope to the narrative and the emotions that accompany it, that makes this feel like a short but very meaty film rather than a mere episode of television. In short, F/sn outdid itself yet again.

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The adorable but unfazed Morning Rin brazenly asks Shirou out on a date, and while Saber tags along, she tells them to pretend she’s not there. They have coffee; they eat sweets; they try on glasses; they have a spirited go at the batting cages.

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They even have a picnic. It’s F/sn at its most domesticated and on its best behavior. But whether it’s Saber constantly eating or getting excited about eating or getting really into the baseball, or never really knowing 100% whether Rin is messing around with Shirou or sees him as a legitimate love interest (most likely both, I’d wager), this kind of Fate is also eminently charming and fun, even if there’s a foreboding feeling lurking just outside the frame.

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But these fun times only comprise a third of the sprawling episode. The idyllic bright sunny day darkens as we check in on Fuji-nee visiting Kiritsugu’s grave, and see that she’s being shadowed by a chick with familiar hair and lip color. Fuji-nee has shown that she’s got combat skills, so she should be fine…right?

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Shirou, Rin, and Saber’s lovely tripartite date comes to a violently rude close so suddenly, it comes as a gut punch, the first of many to come. Their bus is blasted into a bounded field…

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…and Caster appears, with her magic thread wound tightly round a freshly-caught Fuji-nee’s throat. Caster, never one to play by the rules of the Holy Grail War, seeks to end it quickly, and is intrigued by Shirou. If he swears fealty to her, she’ll free Fuji-nee. He refuses, so she makes a counter-offer: take his arm with its command seals.

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With the choice now his arm for Fuji-nee’s life, there is no choice to Shirou. Saber is less sure, and charges Caster. That’s when Shirou, in a panic and worried about Fuji-nee’s safety, inadvertently uses his final command seal to freeze Saber in her tracks. Caster takes full advantage, running her “Rule Breaker” dagger through her, which has the effect of transferring Saber from Shioru to Caster.

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This was…well, what can I say? It was a shock. A huge shock. Here were Shirou and the girls, having a harmless fun time on the town, and it ends with Shirou losing his servant and friend. This is Fate taking the gloves off, and showing no mercy to someone who has someone to lose (Fuji-nee) and who also has no idea what they’re doing.

Caster spares Shirou on a whim and sics Saber on Rin, but Shirou comes between them and takes the strike in his shoulder. Now Shirou is down a servant and bleeding out. Fortunately Archer breaks through and rescues him and Rin, but it’s tough to watch Saber being left behind.

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A surprisingly upbeat (perhaps putting up a strong front?) Rin patches Shirou up at her place, then showers and has a chat with her own servant Archer, a scene which hearkens back to their first encounter at her house in the first episode. Here, they discuss Archer’s past (and his possible tie to Saber), their priority (defeating Caster), and the status of her pact with Shirou, which she intends to honor, even though he’s no longer a Master, until he decides to leave the war for good.

Up in her room, Shirou stirs and finds the pendant Rin used to heal him from mortal wounds once before. The sight of it reminds him just how much he owes Rin, and his still-fresh wounds (no longer being quickly healed by Saber’s mana) remind him how powerless he presently is to repay his debts.

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As the good guys lick their wounds, Caster wastes no time, posting Assassin at the temple gate to protect her Master (opening his chest and rearranging his ribs as motivation), then sets her eyes on the church where Kirei hangs out.

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Even the stoic Kirei shows a bit of shock when Caster presents Saber from beneath her cloak (and gets all touchy, adding to Saber’s clear discomfort). Here, we first learn about a ‘lesser’ and ‘greater’ grail. The latter is summoned when one servant remains, but the former is something she believes can be acquired before that, and aims to beat Kirei into submission.

Kirei calls Caster by her former title, Princess of Colchis, intimates that her ‘soft heart’ is the reason she’s so keen to bring the war to a quick end. He gets pretty banged up in the ensuing battle, as Lancer hangs back, promising someone (his master) not to allow anyone to interfere.

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Speaking of interfering, Shirou goes after Rin, despite the fact he’s no longer a master and can do absolutely nothing except get in her way at this point. He finds her on a rooftop, where she tells him as much without mincing words. So much has happened, their date feels like ancient history. She leaps off the roof, knowing Archer will appear to catch her in midair, and before bounding off into the dense city lights, gives Shirou these parting words: “Stay out of this from now on, or you’re dead.”

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As much as Rin may be trying to cast (no pun intended) aside her emotions so she can focus on the pressing matter of winning the war, those words sound and feel just as much like Rin looking out for him than they are a threat. She can’t afford to have a Fuji-nee-like Achilles’ Heel, after all. But let’s get real: Shirou may be out of it now, but he obviously won’t be staying out of this. We’ll just have to wait three months to learn how he’ll claw his way back in. Three…long…months.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 11

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Fate / stay night gave us another breather between battles this week. Nothing major was revealed, nor did the Emiya/Rin alliance determine what, if any strategy they would pursue in hunting down Caster.

In fact, while Archer gives us a sliver more info on Emiya’s new secondary projection magic ability, I would argue the explanation is so vague and obviously loaded with unsaid implications about Archer’s own back story, that this episode raises more questions than answers.

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To sum up: Behind his casual smile, Emiya is on the ropes. Using his new ability has put the left half of his body into shock and upset his balance. Physical pain aside, he’s become clumsy and weak, breaking dishes and even struggling to hold an eraser.

However, it’s not until late in the episode that Saber and Rin start to catch on, and then, only Archer’s sudden arrival offers a solution. See, Archer claims this happened to him, during his own life, and he quickly sets Emiya on the mend. Cold as ever, he doesn’t explain any more than that but, on the up side, he says Emiya will most likely be a significantly stronger mage after a few days of recovery.

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In non-Emiya news, we got a lot more RIn this week and, despite some tsundere flame-ups over Emiya’s emotional density, we even got a lot more emotional range from her too. Her chat with Emiya about the differences between the houses they live in, and how that mood translates into the types of people they are was quite pleasant.

Otherwise? Ninja-sensei is dodging school, as expected. Sensei-chan is nagging, pesky, and easily defeated by Rin. Sakura, Shinji, and everyone else of note remain unseen…

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The Good: if you ignore Rin’s tsundere moment at the end of her conversation with Emiya, her scenes were very good this week. It was especially nice to see more of her and Saber getting along. The girls are really in sync and, in their own way, so are Archer and Emiya.

This is an interesting direction for the show to go in and I’m curious to see if we ever learn that Rin really should have summoned Saber and Emiya Archer, but some outside force prevented this. Despite their conflicts, Emiya is constantly emulating Archer and, after Archer helps Emiya at the end of this episode, and after Archer yells at him about his ideals, it really seems like Archer sees a lot of himself — his mistakes — in Emiya.

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The not so good: Sensei-chan is a dull anime trope. While it was fun to see Rin take her apart in verbal sparing, Sensei is so unimportant to the story, and so immature, Rin’s victory doesn’t hold much meaning.

Furthermore, if we have time to waste on fluff like Sensei-chan, the complete lack of Lancer/Berserker/Shinji or anyone who would scoot the broader story along is frustrating.

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The Verdict: I can’t help but think that I’m stuck watching the ‘dumb teenagers,’ who don’t know what they are doing or what is going on, while a much more interesting anime is going on around them. Obviously, these dumb kids will become the most successful and/or ‘win’ the day, and seeing their development into winners is the point but… I do feel like the show has spread out the opponents’ appearances too much.

I mean, we haven’t seen Lancer in 8-9 episodes!

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As many have mentioned in the comments, this show suffers from trying to capture all of the unrelatable threads of an interactive fiction into an ordered fiction. It does a very good job under those constraints, it’s visually stunning, and Emiya is finally developing as a character.

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More importantly, Rin got much needed screen time and it wasn’t all one note. All together, it was a great episode, certainly miles above average for a chapter bridge. Still, I can’t help but feel Rin doesn’t get enough screen time, or isn’t written well enough to get more…

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 10

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That sky, that field, those swords…I must say, Rin has some pretty dreams.

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Archer continues to pout and be baffled by her choice to ally herself with Shirou, whom he considers the absolute worst choice, suggesting they team up with Caster instead. Rin tells him that’s not happening. Caster is a monster, and she can trust Shirou to never betray him. Archer still protests, and worries for his master, whom he believes Shirou is making soft.

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But she is his master, so what she says goes. The search for Caster’s Master continues and seemingly hits a breakthrough, as both Shirou and Rin witness Issei conferring with Rin’s homeroom teacher Kuzuki Souichirou, who is staying a Ryuudou Temple with his ‘fiancee’.

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That connection is enough for Rin to suspect Kuzuki, and she plans to test him that very night. Shirou, while dubious, won’t let his ally jump into potential danger alone.

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It becomes clearer and clearer that he’s not merely concerned with holding up his part of the alliance, but also with his dear friend’s safety.

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Rin fires a light magic burst at Kuzuki, ruining his umbrella, and Caster shows up shortly thereafter to protect him, proving Rin right. I can’t say I was surprised by this, but I guess it wouldn’t do for them to be wrong again. Caster must have a master; them’s the rules.

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But Kuzuki is an odd duck. When Shirou asks him if he’s somehow under Caster’s control, Kuzuki is bemused. Shirou calls him a good and decent man who would never turn a blind eye to Caster’s crimes…but he doesn’t know Kuzuki at all. Neither in Caster’s thrall nor totally controlling her, he prefers to stand on the sideline and see what happens, not involving himself unless absolutely necessary. Not a bad strategy, for a Master who claims not to be a mage at all.

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But then Rin, Shirou, and Saber force the issue, and he’s forced to involve himself. He comports himself far better than I imagines, as he’s able to block Saber’s strikes with his bare hands.

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Not only that, he’s able to strengthen those same bare hands in order to put Saber in a chokehold and toss her aside like a ragdoll.

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Rin is dispatched even quicker than Saber…Yowch…

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…And it doesn’t seem like Shriou will fare any better. In fact, it would appear that by hitting Kuzuki with that spell, she rattled a hornet’s nest and they now find themselves in way over their heads.

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Then, Shriou sees an injured, knocked-out, helpless Rin lying on the ground… and knows that he and only he has to do something, or she’s going to die. What he does looks more like instinct awakened from extreme conditions, i.e. Rin being in mortal danger. Shirou’s been thinking about Archer’s two swords for some time, and in this, the moment when he really needs a weapon that isn’t just a pipe or a stick, he is able to summon those swords using projection magic.

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With these, he’s able to not only keep up with Kuzuki, but keep him at bay until Saber recovers, forcing Kuzuki and Caster to withdraw. Rin is surprised and somewhat annoyed he didn’t mention how good he was at projection before, but he surprised himself was well. I also imagine from the pain we see him in that some kind of price will be exacted for using this power if and when he ends up using it again. And because he’s the hero, it’s likely he’ll bear that pain without telling anyone.

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That was a nice battle, and also a good new power awakening for Shirou, as well as another trial that brought him and Rin closer together. It seems like Archer would have been useful in the situation, but Rin left him home, afraid of Caster’s effect on him.

Meanwhile, Shinji is in a very green area talking with a bloke who I’m guessing is his new servant. Speaking of being in over one’s head; the naive, petulant Shinji definitely seems to be that.

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