Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 02 – Being Served By Power, Not Serving Power

Gaining Sayoko and Nozomi as friends only added both to the list of things Asuka has to lose and the things she must use the power she had laid down to protect. Iizuka admonishes her for battling in downtown Tokyo so brazenly, and repeats his desire for her to join Spec-Ops. Asuka isn’t budging; she’ll protect herself and her friends, but she won’t go back to that life.

As we learned last week, however, there’s no way to have one foot in this world and one foot out. You’re either all-in or not, and Asuka not using her power last week would have meant Sayoko buying it. For her part, Sayoko remains subconsciously traumatized by the terrorist battle; the magic that occludes ordinary peoples’ perception must not have worked on her 100%.

We also learn that unbeknownst to Nozomi, her “boring desk work” policeman dad is actually a top interrogator (read: torturer) with the National Police Agency, and is torturing the terrorist leader for info on future attacks. One such attack is being facilitated by a group of “bad” magical (badgical?) girls, who possess an enhanced Disas from the bad old days.

Sayoko’s incomplete memory wipe aside, she is feeling terrible about having not been able to do anything to help her fellow bystanders, which means while she got to go home safe and sound, some people didn’t. Asuka tells her it’s better to be cowardly than to pretend you’re stronger than you are. Naturally, Asuka’s not telling her friends she’s Rapture, and you can’t help but wonder how long she can keep them in the dark.

A call from Iizuka warns Asuka that a powerful Halloween-class Disas has been deployed by the terrorists, and “War Nurse” is the only active Magical Girl in Japan who can engage it. That doesn’t sit right with Asuka, who after all was the one who recruited War Nurse, AKA Mugen Kurumi. Kurumi was perhaps the weakest of the Magical Five, and her success in combat relied on the cooperation of the other girls beside her.

Kurumi is confident she can deal with the Disas herself—she doesn’t have any other choice—but it proves more powerful and dangerous than the Halloweens of yore, and it isn’t long until she’s in the same position as the mother and young daughter she saved: about to be slashed to bits by a giant evil plush bear.

While I maintain the resting states of the Disas are hella goofy, when this bear version gets serious it’s actually pretty goddamn creepy-looking, what with its giant claws, buzzsaw-like teeth, and the bloody carnage it unleashes. Fortunately, Asuka is Just In Time to bail Kurumi out.

While the bear is tough, it’s no match for Asuka, who dispatches it with ease, angering the badgical girl who lent it to the terrorists (she works out her anger by stabbing a passing policeman in the eye). As her catlike familiar fights pigeons for food crumbs, Kurumi tells Asuka that she has been and will continue to be a “terrible person” for recruiting her while knowing she wasn’t strong enough to fight alone, only to abandon her.

She’s not wrong. Sure, it was Kurumi’s choice to make, but she made it believing Asuka would remain by her side, and that hasn’t been the case of late. Still, she’s willing to forgive Asuka as long as Asuka keeps her promise “from now on.” When Kurumi then transfers to Asuka’s school and class, it’s apparent that Asuka has some trust to rebuild with her friend and comrade. She’s strong; stronger than Kurumi. Standing on the sidelines is no longer an option.

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Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 01 (First Impressions) – Voice of Destiny

Three years ago the Disas invaded Earth, but thanks to a treaty with the Spirit Realm, nine select human girls were transformed into Magical Girls. Four were killed defeating the Disas, and five remained…and went their separate ways.

The ostensible leader of the Magical Girls, one Ootorii Asuka, lives her life as a normal high school student, though whenever she sees any kind of animal mascot, she thinks back to the bad old days. Magical trappings aside, Asuka is a traumatized combat veteran trying to move on from the horrors she experienced.

But at school, she’s the cool mysterious transfer student. She stands out by dint of her physique and apparent aloofness. And when her classmates are accosted in the street, she rushes to their aid…and has to remember not to kill the guy.

The beneficiaries of small act of heroism, Nozomi and Sayoko, thank Asuka and announce their intention to befriend her. Nozomi wants her to join track since she’s in great shape; Sayoko wants her to join the lit club because she sees her reading.

But while Sayoko reads because she loves it, Asuka does it to escape; to keep her mind busy so it doesn’t go back to those bad old times of blood, sweat, and tears. When her guardian Iizuka arrives to tell her about a new squad being assembled, she passes on his offer without hesitation.

Back when she was in middle school, she came home to find two Disas had already killed her parents and were prepared to “give them back” to her one piece at a time, which is why Iizuka ended up her guardian.

Her takeaway was that while she fought to save the world, those around her suffered and died. Now that she has two new adorable friends, she doesn’t want history to repeat itself. Of course, Asuka she puts it, despite all the effort she’s put in to escape her past, battles keep finding her, because “a Magical Girl’s battle never ends”.

Whether it was a minor incident like the asshole who shoved Nozomi (who dared to call him out on his assholery), or an escaped terrorist leader and his kill squad with Sayoko in the crossfire, when duty calls, she’ll always answer. Once a Magical Girl, always a Magical Girl.

While Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is almost painfully straightforward in its premise, the Disas are super goofy-looking, and the show lacks anything resembling originality, I found Asuka’s emotionally-wounded vet profile resonant, and the show is crisply designed and animated and accompanied by a cool Square Enix JRPG-style soundtrack.

The idea of Magical Girls moving on to more conventional military operations after the Magical enemy has gone is also intriguing, as Asuka is not alone and we’ll soon see what became of the other four of the Magical Five. Both the bloody action and the lighter school life scenes are executed with aplomb. Definitely entertaining enough to stick with for now.

Battle Girl High School: Battle Girl Project – 01 (First Impressions)

Like GF Kari or Kantai Collection, this is a show about quantity over quality, specifically with regard to “battle girls.” No two girls are quite alike in hair color, voice, outfit, or weapon, and it’s a collect-them-all vibe to them.

There doesn’t seem to be any angle that might subvert the standard magical/battle girl genre; they’re just in a bit of a performance slump and their instructors have decided to put them through more training.

While the main trio of Miki, Haruka, and Subaru are introduced and a few other relationships and personalities are doled out, it’s frankly a bit of an overload for me.

The line between entertainment and advertisement feels so very thin here, and the “Irousu” enemy is generic to the point of afterthought. If it’s all the same, I’ll go ahead and skip this one, which while not shockingly bad, is bereft of anything new or interesting.

Watashi ga Motete Dousunda – 08

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Every time it looks like one guy, say Iga, has the inside track (gradually teaching Kae to be comfortable touching a guy with innocent handshakes), conditions allow for a shake-up. Enter Nana, who is concerned about being the least close to Kae of all the others.

When Kae, dirt broke from the pilgrimage, gets a job at a theme park dancing in a Puri Puri Moon show, it’s Nana’s time to shine, as he’s watched, danced, and sung every song in PPM’s repertoire every weekend with his adorable little sister Kirari.

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As such, Nana is the one and only one who can get closer to Kae this way. The others try, but the hiring staff of Usami Land find other part-time jobs that better fit their particular skills and circumstances. As for Nana, he puts everything he has into training for the role of the Dark Prince, even at the cost of his health, suddenly collapsing with fever.

Kae has him brought home, then takes care of him by cooking him food before he takes his medicine. She manages to bond with Kirari a little, but not to the point Kirari is willing to let Kae have her brother, whom she wants to marry. But their shared knowledge of PPM is a definite ice-breaker.

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Then things get dark, and I mean really dark, as a fever-addled Nana, essentially dreaming while awake, grabs, kisses, and holds down Kae, who isn’t strong enough to break away. If it wasn’t for an improbable Iga to the rescue, who knows what might have happened.

The show does not contend for a second that Nana was just getting the better of his hormones to awful result; he was well and truly not in his right mind. I have no reason to doubt that, and neither does Kae, but that doesn’t change the fact it was an awful and terrifying experience; one that makes her nervous about touching any guy again, including Iga, the guy she was making such nice gradual progress with.

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After apologizing profusely both on the phone and in a very public display of begging outside Kae’s bedroom window (much to the chagrin of her older brother), Nana regains Kae’s trust in the heat of a PPM show gone awry, when three otaku n’er-do-wells must be dealt with, requiring Kae to take Nana’s arm/hand on numerous occasions.

I’ll admit the frozen faces of the character outfits were a little unsettling (not to mention an obvious trick to save money on animation), but that’s often how such theme parks operate; the labor they have at their disposal isn’t always going to remotely resemble specific anime characters.

Indeed, the frozen faces served at least two laudable purposes: they provided a literal “padding” between Kae and Nana to facilitate healing between them, and it also served as a semi-biting commentary on the culture of such shows: play the right tune and bust the right moves, and facial expressions, to say nothing of plot and character, are all irrelevant.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 12

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Hannah: You know Zane, there wasn’t even a battle in this episode, but I was still bowled over by how much power lay in the deliberations, judgement and, aftermath, along with the surprise resolution that actually served both parties, thus transcending the typical Good Guys Win, Bad Guys Lose formula. A Food Wars episode without a Food War might sound transitory, but it sure didn’t feel that way. Instead, what it felt like was a masterpiece.

Zane: I’m inclined to agree, Han, that was an emotional spin cycle right there! Even with the cookoff concluded, it still had all the elements I’ve loved from previous previous showdowns, what with the highly-detailed analysis of the dish and its unique, metaphorical effect on the alumni-judges. At least in this Shokugeki, 7 > 9!

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Hannah: I like that; and I’m no math whiz, as you know. I also liked how the warm, earthy, nurturing flavor of Megumi’s terrine each evoked a different benevolent deity forthe judges. It spoke to them in different ways, but it spoke to them all, touching their hearts in a way Shinomiya’s simply didn’t.

Zane: Yeah, those Megumi gods were the best! I also appreciated how Megumi decided her best option was to try to put forth the best damn veggie terrine she could, freed of the limitations of Shino’s recette. Her Mature-vs.-Fresh treatment impressed the judges, and also laid the groundwork for the excellent character work to follow.

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Hannah: Was your heart, just warmed by the effect of her food when she’s on her game, suddenly cleaved in two upon the sight of those three coins on Shinomiya’s plate, indicating our heroine’s defeat? Even though I knew this wouldn’t be the end for her or Souma, mine certainly was.

Zane: Absolutely. I also knew Shino’s far more technically proficient, real-world-tested, award-winning cuisine was going to blow Megumi’s earnest but sloppy effort out of the water. I mean, the guy has the Pluspol. The PLUSPOL, fer cryin’ out loud! And yet, the suddenness of the judgement, and the look on Megumi’s face as she realizes she’s done, still had impact.

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Hannah: That brings us to the Deus Ex Doujima [Gin], which turned out not to be what I thought. When he put his coin on Megumi’s plate, breaking the rules of the Shokugeki, I thought we were in for a predictable-ish 12 Angry Men scenario in which he convinces the other judges to change their votes one by one. What happened instead was…much better.

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Zane: It was…it so was! Last week Doujima opined that Shino was holding back against a student, and now we see why: he graduated from Totsuki, moved to France, and became the chef-owner of a restaurant, i.e. got to the top so frikkin’ quickly, he finds himself at the top of a precipice, unsure of his next move.

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Hannah: You gotta stop agreeing with me…it’s kinda freaking me out. Anyway. His stagnation is regression. He’s moved forward so forcefully by sheer will and talent, he’s left the heart behind…a heart he finds when he finally takes a bite of Megumi’s cooking.

I’m glad to see the tripartite Megumi-deities show up again, but I’m even more impressed that rather than a goofy ridiculous fantasy played for laughs, which is often how people react to Souma’s food, Megumi’s food creates a pang of nostalgia for Shinomiya, transporting him back to a simpler, safer time, before he was on a “knife’s edge.”

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Zane: It’s a beautiful memory, to be sure. And as you say, the other judges don’t change their votes. Doujima puts his coin on Megumi’s plate, followed by Shino himself. He scoffed at Doujima’s apparent “pity vote” for the loser, but now sees that the power of Megumi’s food must be acknowledged. …Then Hinako, who isn’t even a judge, puts a 500-yen piece (these guys are rich, after all!) on the plate, making the Shokugeki a tie. The rules are bent, but Shino not only approves of the bending, but is a dang part of it.

Hannah: The flashback of Shinomiya with Hinako and the others gives us a glimpse into how far back these guys go, and how they continue to want to look out for him. Doujima allows this shokugeki because he sensed Shinomiya was in a rut and crafted an opportunity to show, not tell, him what he was missing; what he lost sight of: caring for the customers. Showing hospitality, of which Megumi is apparently the goddess, at least in her class. Shinomiya found a way forward, while Megumi found her strength.

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Zane: Well said. I also enjoyed the little scene between Megumi and Souma on their way back to the hotel room. Free from the oppressive concrete and stainless steel of the basement kitchen, they now walk in a cool, soothing night, a great weight lifted. Megumi no knows without a doubt that Souma is a good person, someone she wants to keep cooking with for a long time yet, and thanks him for helping her get that opportunity.

Hannah: Yes, if it weren’t for his reckless gambit, she’d be packing her bags for home. But to his credit, Souma doesn’t take credit; he only provided a nudge—breaking through the light mesh of Shinomiya’s unfairness—in order to bust through the brick wall and inspire both the judges and the chef who would’ve expelled her, Megumi herself had to rise to the occasion and show what she’s made of…and she did.

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Zane: So, all’s well that ends well! Except when Megumi goes ahead, Souma expresses his intense displeasure with losing, smacking his fist against a wall so hard his friends notice it when he returns to the hotel room. However well things ended, he still drew, rather than beat, Shino, and Doujima saved both their asses. Even as the sous chef, he takes responsibility, and will likely take the draw as a bitter pill of wisdom: as we saw from Shino’s rise, you don’t always win.

Hannah: And that brings us to the midpoint of this awesome show that blends your love of cooking with my love of intense battles. I’m really looking forward to the second half, which I’m sure will be just as entertaining a watch.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 11

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Shinomiya concedes that shokugekis of the type Souma proposes aren’t unprecidented, but like any other shokugeki, they requite the consent of both parties; consent he’s not willing to provide. That would be that, but Doujima Gin, who is running this show and its venue, and Inui decide otherwise.

Gin authorizes an unofficial or “street” shokugeki in the basement kitchen of the resort annex. If Souma and Megumi wins, they’re both still in Totsuki. If they lose, they’re both expelled.

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Not suprisingly, Megumi feels responsible for putting Souma in this predicament, but he won’t have her blaming herself for a choice he made. He says he made it because it’s not time for her to drop out yet, but the unspoken reason is, of course, she’s a dear friend who he couldn’t stand by and watch get unfairly washed out. They’re in this together now, because that’s what he wanted.

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When the contestants, Gin, and four other alumai judges assemble in the basement kitchen, Gin sets the rules: two hours, veggies leftover from the day’s training sessions, and most importantly, Megumi is the head chef who will be going up against Shinomiya. Souma will be a sous chef, nothing more, who must follow Megumi’s vision without alteration.

The reason for this is both plain and very welcome: if Souma is in charge and wins the shokugeki for Megumi, she’ll remain a tagalong, and continue to need to be saved by him. By putting her in the chef’s seat, Gin is hoping this shokugeki is the crucible through which they’ll finally see what Megumi’s made of, and whether Souma is justified in believing it’s worth un-expelling her.

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I loved the playful banter and horseplay between Gin, Shino, and the judges; all of whom are old classmates, if not friends who’ve known each other a long time. They also keep each other in check, the same way Aldini’s more reasonable brother kept him in check as his character was built, so not even Shino can become a full-blown villain.

Of course, the fact she’s going up against a seasoned, up-and-coming French chef-owner straight up freezes Megumi, until Souma slaps her hands together with his, a trick that always stops his hands from shaking, but require two people to do it. The message is clear: he’s here for her, only this time he’s behind her rather than the other way around.

She needn’t be concerned about her opponent or what he’s making, all she can do is put everything she has into her dish, using the skills she’s honed since she used to watch her mom cook as a young girl. Watching her stride proudly into battle with Souma as her trusty sidekick was a great image.

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Also a great image? DAT CHOU FARCI. Honestly, I’ve had cabbage rolls before, some delicious, some gross, but never anything like Chef Shino prepares. The judges put on a clinic in gastronomic know-how in analyzing his dish, and the animators do a great job whetting my own appetite by showing us the intricate step-by-step of its preparation.

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The foodgasm fantasy of the week is the four judges playing off of the fact it tastes like Shino put a spell on his dish, turning them into a magical girl team, complete with Gin in drag. I’ll admit, I’d probably watch a couple episodes of that show!

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Alas, this battle is not settled this week; in fact, we only catch a passing glimpse of the fruits of Chef Tadokoro’s labors, though we saw that she and Souma are like a well-oiled machine, with him supporting her in everything without making his own tasks suffer or taking over. You can literally see Megumi’s confidence surge as they cook, but she gets nervous again when it’s time to present.

Again, Souma gives her the push she needs to approach the alumni with her dish: an elaborate and delectable-looking terrine, this time not limited by Shino’s recette. We won’t know how they feel about it until next week, but we do know one thing: Shino held back, believing he could beat Megumi without breaking out his signature dish (or food bankai, if you will.) While Gin doesn’t think it likely Shino will lose, he does wonder if Shino’s arrogance is his Achilles Heel.

My take? It probably is. If Megumi really put everything she is and has into that terrine, while Shino just kinda half-assed things (at least by his standards), I believe the judges will be able to taste the difference.

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Nisekoi 2 – 09

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This episode’s super-easy to summarize: Part One: Pool Cleaning. Part Two: Nursing the Onodera Sisters. But both halves paired those basic activities with some welcome, if minor, character development.

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The first half put everyone in swimsuits, which is nice and all, but the part I liked most was the fact that Paula, a seasoned assassin, doesn’t do well in groups, and kept her distance. Enter Haru, who likes Paula and wants her to join in the fun. Interestingly, it’s Haru and Raku who both work, albeit independently, to bring Paula around.

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Sick Kosaki’s reaction to seeing Raku at the door was adorable, as was her not-all-that-reluctant acceptance of his help. Ruri may have set Raku up, but he’s still not going to abandon an ill Kosaki; even if Haru is there to take care of her. And Kosaki vacuuming her room was even more adorable.

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At first, Haru treats Raku as usual: like a two-timing man-monster, constantly casting aspersions or teasing him with her built-in closeness to Kosaki. But then Raku notices Haru is also running a fever, orders her to bed, and proceeds to dote on her, from delicious rice gruel to a cold compress.

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In his care, Haru’s opinion of Raku gradually improves, as his behavior just doesn’t mesh with the Raku she invented in her head and more closely resembles the kind and gentle soul her sis adores so. Her opinion of him improves so much, she decides to give him his locket back, though she still refuses to accept that he was the prince that saved her.

Instead, she’s putting it in his protective custody until such a time as her prince returns, whereupon she’ll ask for it back. It’s quite a roundabout, ass-covering way of non-admitting Raku was and is her prince. Between reaching out to Paula, her devotion to her sister, and coming around on Raku, this was a nice episode for Haru.

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Nisekoi 2 – 08

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Whew, talk about a grab bag. Not only is this week split into two completely different stories, but the first half doesn’t even take place in Nisekoi’s world. Instead, it tries its hand at the magical girl genre, with Kosaki as a pastry-themed heroine, Marika is a kind of magical cop, and Chitoge is a gorilla girl.

The running gag is that their case worker Rurin, who is some kind of mouse thing, not only piles a bunch of bureaucratic paperwork onto Kosaki, who won leadership by rock-paper-scissors, but also seems to take a kind of perverse glee in watching the meek Kosaki transform, which requires a moment of stark nakedness she never really gets used to (though Marika couldn’t care less about being naked).

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The villain, “Dr.” Maikou, is also motivated by wanting to watch the girls transform fight, and beat him, because he’s a bit masochistic that way. When the finishing move to get rid of his minion requires five straight minutes of nakedness, we never actually see it, and Maikou himself is defeated when the mouse flips Kosaki’s skirt and then punches him into orbit.

To borrow Kosaki’s pastry theme, while the show successfully pokes fun at the maho shojo genre here and there, the whole thing is pretty half-baked and inconsequential, which is appropriate as it only takes up a half-episode. It felt like one long omake.

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The second half of the episode is just as thin, as it rehashes Haru’s determination not to give Raku the time of day, even as he volunteers to fill in at the Onoderas’ sweet shop. At least we see from the girls’ mother that Haru is indeed a “little man-hater” who will only be “cured” if she actually interacts with guys, rather than craft elaborate narratives about them in her head.

Raku wants to play nice, and they even connect over their shared love of and devotion to Big Sis Kosaki, who strategically left them alone so they’d have no choice but to gel more. Raku even thoughtfully praises Haru’s skills, while demonstrating he has some of his own, borne from his past experience helping Kosaki at the shop.

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There are signs, then, that Haru is ever-so-slowly coming around to maybe accepting and even tolerating Raku’s existence, even if she still (rightfully) thinks it’s wrong for him to be going after her sister when he already has a girlfriend. And that’s kinda the pall cast over this whole Onodera situation: Raku has been wrong in spinning all these girl-plates without giving any of them the answers they deserve, and the broken locket is a poor excuse for his continued inaction.

Raku has no one to blame than himself if an outside observer like Haru sees him as a playboy, because he kinda is. Yet, as he gets close and personal with Haru—by necessity—when she tries to carry too much, it seems Haru is on her way to being one more member of the harm; albeit not by choice.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 06

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When the Pleiadian spaceship starts to shift into their dimension, the plan to rebuild its engine accelerates, as does the need to find as many fragments as possible. For once, the girls are able to snag one without interference from Dark Minato, but it turns out to be a trap he sets that lets him discover their base.

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He places a magical barrier around the entire school, trapping Subaru inside. After delving into Hikaru and Itsuki’s pasts, personalities, and motivations the last two weeks, HnP swings back around to the pink-haired protagonist, face-to-face with Dark Minato on solid ground for the first time. But before he can get too close, her Drive Shaft activates and brisks her away.

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She ends up in Nice Minato’s observatory, in an embrace neither are embarrassed about. Subaru is scared, and finds solace and comfort here, with him. Is he an old friend she forgot? Why are there two versions of him? Neither of these questions are explained, but as usual, this Minato is able to provide some advice that helps her press forward, despite her fear. But this visit feels like a goodbye.

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A path leads to a new exit, but when she opens the doors to her friends’ delight, all of a sudden the whole damn school is floating up in orbit, just above the Pleiadian spaceship. Exactly why this happens isn’t explained, but it’s very surreal and cool.

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The President says if the spaceship fully shifts and awakens all of his countrymen, it would be very bad, without going into detail, so when Dark Minato attacks them, Subaru blocks his path. She’s decided she’s not giving up the fragments, she’ snot letting him destroy the school, and she’s not letting him hurt Aoi. He gettin’ nothing!

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Even though she’s scared and shaking, it doesn’t matter; she’s not backing down. Dark Minato is taken aback, as he’s used to using fear and little else to keep his adversaries down. Likely due to Subaru’s resolve and show of strength, their Drive Shafts transform into more recognizable Subaru products, and the five of them create a spark that knocks the ship back into a higher dimension where it will be safe until the engine is completed.

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The ship, the school, and her friends are safe, but when she returns to the magical conservatory, it’s dark and barren, and Minato is nowhere to be found. Will they ever meet again? Or was Subaru’s decision to walk down that path and exit out the rooftop door a symbol of moving on from the security blanket of Minato’s counsel; that moving forward meant leaving a part of herself behind?

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P.S. While I still like this show, it’s likely to be next on the dropping block, as Zane wants me to take Re-Kan! off his hands since he’s dropped Mikagura to review Ore Monogatari!!. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

Houkago no Pleiades – 05

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The cosplay club’s class is doing the play “The Lady in the Tower”, and pegged the elegant Itsuki as the princess and the tomboyish Aoi as the prince. Aoi, who is actually pretty girly, gets all gung-ho about making a dress for Itsuki, and Itsuki maintains a pleasant composure and lets everyone do what they want…but she seems a little uneasy, and wigs out when Subaru pulls her bangs back.

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In another Minato’s Garden sequence that calls into question where exactly Subaru actually is during such sequences (it seems likely they’re either in a shared dream or Subaru’s), Subaru likens Minato to the lady in the tower, only he doesn’t see any point in ever leaving; maybe because he doesn’t know what’s out there, or maybe because he’s exactly where he should be.

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In any case, he motivates Subaru to have another go to see what’s up with Itsuki, and they end up “going for a drive” which is a great euphemism (if a bit understated) for ascending into low earth orbit at dusk (they’ve collected enough fragments that this is now child’s play even for Subaru). There, Itsuki tells her about the time she herself was a tomboy, who’d put herself in danger.

While climbing a tree, the wind took her hat, and believing she could fly, leapt off the tree to catch it. The fall gave her a scar, for which her parents blamed her brother. From that point on, Itsuki vowed never to cause problems for others again. The wound on her forehead was still fresh when she saw the Pleiadian ship break up, the event that brought her together with the other girls.

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While up in orbit, the Pleiadian alerts Subaru and Itsuki to a “nearby” fragment, that he tries to draw to them, but instead it draws all of them to it. This results in the expected but still awesome expansion of the scale of the girls’ playground to include the rest of the solar system. In a particularly thrilling and charming sequence, the girls pass Mars, the Belt, and Jupiter while describing all of the foods their colors remind them of.

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When they finally come to a stop in a dense field of ice beads, the camera pulls way, way back to reveal they’re floating over the rings of Saturn, arguably the system’s most photogenic and charismatic planet. The pull-back creates another grand sense of scale; a scale larger than anything that came before. Indeed, the show even mentions the rings are as wide as five earths.

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Naturally, Minato (who may or may not be the same Minato in Subaru’s garden scenes…I’m just not sure yet) was able to follow the girls and tries to snatch the frag, but loses sight of it. Itsuki comes up with the idea of barreling through the rings, which flow like a river, to reveal the frag’s hiding spot, since its mass varies from the ice beads). It’s deeper science than one would expect from a Magical Girl show, and I like it!

Minato tries to go for the frag when they uncover it, but Itsuki decides to, well, not let her hair down, but pull her bangs up, throwing caution to the wind to beat Minato to the frag. I like this more fallable, defeatable Minato better than the bully of earlier episodes. I also liked Subaru and the others’ assurance that Itsuki shouldn’t fear causing problems for them; in fact, they would be honored if she did.

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Her bangs, and the scar below, were kind of like a tower Itsuki built around herself, along with the determination to avoid causing trouble, even if it meant suppressing who she was. If everyone wanted her to be a princess, she’d be one.

But now that she realizes that causing problems for those we love and care fore, and vice versa, is just part of the territory, she makes another bold move that’s true to herself by swapping roles with Aoi in the play. And it really works!

The awesome planetary adventures with dash of hard sci-fi combined subversion of Itsuki’s role in the group as “the elegant princess”, were all factors that contributed to my generous rating. Pleiades is on a roll.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 04

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The magical transformations girls make in Magical Girl shows often go hand in hand with their personal growth. It’s as much about discovery and mastery of their identity as much as their powers.

Pleiades is no different from this convention; where it continues to distinguish itself is in the execution and the emotional impact of its situations. Last week was about Subaru. This week, it’s Hikaru’s turn to get fleshed out.

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At the same time, the show continues to incrementally extend the reach of its magical girl action with each passing episode, much to my delight. First the sky, then the boundary between Earth and space, and now…the moon. The training, involving being able to attain not only escape velocity, but a speed that will ensure they don’t miss school! I love it.

While largely about the highly intelligent and talented, yet underachieving Hikaru’s personal emotional impasse with her similarly intelligent, talented, overachieving parents, there’s also room this week for Subaru’s weekly visit to Minato’s garden of encouragement, where he plants the seed of believing someone, and being believed, if there’s no reason for them to think you’re lying.

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That’s important, because Hikaru’s family communicates their daily whereabouts primarily through whiteboard. Her apartment may look empty and lonely at first glance, but that board is crucial, dutifully filled out as it is every day without fail: it’s the way they devised to always stay in contact in spirit, if not often in person.

Before leaving for the moon, Hikaru makes something up on the board, once again “doing things halfway”. But then she decides to wipe out the white lie on the whiteboard and write where she’s actually going: the Moon.

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It’s another awesome journey full of grace and grandeur; another wonderful study on the full breadth of magical girl power. I especially liked the different, more subtle sound space made once the girls were clear of Earth’s atmo, and I really enjoyed Hikaru’s cute little dream where her subconscious’ version Subaru as a bit of an idiot—only to learn Subaru shared her dream!

That’s also key because Subaru knows about Hikaru’s unease with her father and the song he wrote. One night she heard music in his practice room even though he wasn’t in there, and decided to write a measure of music in a place where he had gotten stuck. It’s something she always felt guilty about, worried she was interfering in her parents fully achieving their dreams.

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Where she’s wrong is that she is the shared dream of her parents; one far more important than any concerto or astronomical discovery. When her dad sees she wrote down “Moon!” on the whiteboard, he and her mom work together to send his piano music to the Moon; to the cherished daughter they don’t feel they deserve.

She didn’t mess up her dad’s music; she helped him finished it, and the loving way he plays it demonstrates his pride and gratitude for that. The nabbing of their biggest fragment yet is a great product of their lunar excursion, but it’s overshadowed by Hikaru finally being able to show her feelings in front of her friends, who may be initially shocked by her tears, but are also happy they’re seeing another side of their friend.

So, all in all another very good episode from Pleiades. I look forward to seeing who’s turn it will be to get a little more fleshed out next week—Itsuki? Nanako?—and hope the show’s expansion will proceed deeper out into the solar system, and beyond!

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Houkago no Pleiades – 03

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I entered my third week of Pleiades a bit ambivalent. Here was a nice-looking show with a mild degree of Gainax flair whose most glaring flaw was a slavish adhesion to the well-tread magical girl formula, with a hint of repetition Even the girls seem a bit listless in their cosplay club, wondering whether they’re just going through the motions in vain, having worked hard to secure another engine fragment, only to have it snatched away by that stuck-up crimson-haired twerp.

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The alien president tells the girls it isn’t their potential that’s the problem, only their amorphous wills and resolve, which are borne out of the fact they’re in the gray area between childhood and adulthood. When Subaru comes home to see her father tinkering with defective engine parts (probably from a Subaru), she sees herself as a defective part, keeping the machine that is the group of girls from working properly.

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At another accidental visit to Minato’s garden, she laments her crippling hesitation in making decisions, but when Minato asks her the question “do you want to be with them?” she doesn’t hesitate; she does. It’s not that she hasn’t made a decision, she’s just scared of executing. But Minato tells her she shouldn’t think of herself as the only one who’s scared. When you have friends, you cease being defined merely by yourself, but by others, revealing things you never knew you possessed.

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Despite thinking she’s a fifth wheel, what Subaru possesses, at least in the immediate present upon returning to the clubroom, is the ability to amplify the signal of Nanako’s tracking circle, which allows them to pinpoint the next fragment. Just like Subaru said, her friends were waiting for her. Far from being left behind, they needed her power in order to proceed.

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Pleiades truly distinguished itself this week, both in breaking the pattern of the first two eps and greatly expanding the depth and breadth of the girls’ powers under the Pleiadian, who is able to harness more of their potential the more unusual situations they find themselves in. This time, neither they nor Minato manage to grab the fragment in the sky, and it drops into the ocean, but because they’re magical girls, they don’t have to worry about the lack of air or the crushing pressure of those depths…though they do have to change into swimsuits! Umi Monogatari, anyone?

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The expansion continues when, after they surface with the fragment, and the duel with Minato continues, Itsuki, their best flyer, is able to level up thanks to help from Subaru spotting the wind. This level-up is accompanied by even more overt Subaruization of Itsuki’s drive shaft, complete with Forester grille and instrumentation. Where before she was hitting the rev limiter above a certain altitude, now she can soar ever higher into the sky, with the others in tow. Aoi then uses her athletic prowess to knock the fragment away from Minato for the others to catch.

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Before they know it, they’ve risen all the way up into space, adding yet another layer of grandeur and discovery to their exploits this week. Minato follows them even here, but this time Subaru uses strong, uncompromising words to force his retreat. She rejects all the mean things he says, and insists they have as much a right to the fragments as they do, and she won’t hear her and her friends be called failures.

After he’s gone, the girls can “hear space”, their potential realized to a level never before achieved. It’s very grand and a bit trippy thanks to the ambient music and striking visuals.

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The episode closes back down on the good old earth with a nice family moment. Her father tells her she’s not some manufactured part that can only serve one purpose. Rather she can take any shape she wants at any time, and indeed, that’s what we observed from her and her friends: all of them chip in here and there, according to their individual strengths, and together they form a a humming fragment-collecting engine to be reckoned with. All they have to do is have confidence in themselves and trust in one another, and they’ll do fine.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 02

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Pleiades is undeniably pretty and inoffensive show, but at the end of two episodes the forgiving sheen of newness has worn off, revealing what is (and was from the start, really) a fairly lightweight and highly derivative affair.

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Whether being very reminiscent of a show I’ve already watched is grounds for dropping depends on the show it reminds me of, and in this case, Pleiades is at a a distinct disadvantage. It’s directed by the same guy who helmed FLCL, while its obvious thematic and aesthetic inspiration would appear be Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

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Pleiades isn’t nearly as original as Fooly nor as dark and profound as Puella, and if we’re honest, contributes virtually nothing new to stand apart from either. But to be fair, both those shows cast huge shadows…and despite its directorial pedigree and familiar milieu, it’s also not really trying to approach the greatness of those singular classics.

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Rather, it’s content to have a good old time bringing two rootable former friends, who aren’t quite sure why they forgot one another or got split up in the first place, back together. Subaru and Aoi are the focus of this episode, with the latter giving the former flying lessons.

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Again, there’s nothing either deep or groundbreaking, but the two co-leads still made me care about them reconnecting, and indeed its the power of their friendship, and a mutually-remembered song, that nets them two big engine fragments for their alien president.

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Then Minato swoops in and snatches one, and here’s where the show falls down a bit. While he seems to be a nice enough kid in that hidden fountain garden room, to the point he almost resembles a potential love interest for Subaru, his complete character shift to sinister bully feels arbitrary, not to mention repetitive.

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Until there’s a little more revealed about why he’s picking on the girls and Subaru in particular, Minato will remain a rather dull enigma. But despite his sabotage, the girls are making progress, and have even secured a room at their school under the aegis of the official establishment of the “Cosplay Research Club”; as good a cover for a group of magical schoolgirls as any!

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