Sakura Quest – 03

When a television interview exposes Queen Yoshino I’s dearth of knowledge about the very town she rules (mentioning only its natural scenery and manju), Ushimatsu insists she go out into the town and “feel the wind”…which she does, literally, no no effect.

Shiori then accompanies her on a series of increasingly demoralizing interviews with Manoyama’s salt-of-the-earth residents, who either can’t hear what she’s saying, don’t trust her, or say there’s nothing she can do.

However, the bus driver (who was the prince when she was first crowned as a little girl) is one somewhat-heartening voice: if someone’s going to revamp the town, it will either be someone young, someone foolish, or an outsider. Yoshino’s all three, so she should be fine!

She also actually learns a few things about the town. One, it used to be just plain ol’ Kabura Kingdom, without the chupa- , and that Ushimatsu and his tourism board and the board of merchants (led by Ririko’s grandma) have always been at odds with the switch to UMA.

At the apparently super-important mascot contest, Ushimatsu finds his chupakabura mask has gone missing. Little do they know Yoshino’s new friends Shiori, Maki, Sanae and Ririko are ON IT. They put a ridiculous amount of time into tracking down the town’s previous mascot, Kabura Kid, then mending it in time.

It’s a real group effort, though the particulars of their motivation, beyond helping Yoshino out, escaped me a bit. I guess they really did all have a bunch of time on their hands!

They arrive at the contest with the Kabura mask the same time Ushimatsu’s underlings arrive with the chupa mask, soiled by spending time at the garbage dump.

(I’ll mention that I love that Mrs. Oribe takes such pleasure in taking Ushimatsu down a peg whenever possible, talking about how he’ll be saved by the very kingdom he once destroyed. It’s such gloriously big language for such a petty subject!)

But hey, maybe it’s not so petty. As Ushimatsu and the others bicker over which mask he’ll wear, the Queen finally puts her royal foot down, and says it doesn’t matter. (But she choses the kabura mask, since it’s not covered in shit).

In a stilted, serious speech probably not quite appropriate for the audience of mostly kids, she says she doesn’t yet know what Manoyama has that no other town in the world has, but she’ll spend the next year hoping to find out (assuming the entire town doesn’t die of old age by then).

The one condition she gives Ushimatsu is that she be allowed to perform her duties with the assistance of the combined force of Shiori, Maki, Sanae and Ririko, who all agree to be her “council of ministers.”

Again, because I guess they just don’t have a lot going on? It’s not made clear whether they’ll be paid like Yoshino is, but one would hope. What kind of kingdom can’t pay its subjects a fair wage for their services?

Watched with a hearty helping of suspension of disbelief, Sakura Quest is a pleasant enough place to spend time, if pretty much average in looks and sound. So I’ll stick with it for now. Can that sustain me for…25 episodes? That remains to be seen.

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 01 (First Impressions)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 09

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This week’s Zestiria still shined in the technical and aesthetic sense, but it felt a bit mechanical, perfunctory, and inevitable, like very practically moving pieces on the board closer together. In this case, it was uniting Sorey/Lailah/Edna with Alisha, and then with Mikleo and his new mascot-like friend Atakk, a Normin Seraphim specializing in powering up other Seraphim like Mikleo.

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We learn of the cause of the storm that blew out the bridges (an Ouroboros) but that boss is soon usurped by a drake (or baby dragon) who is the cause of the malevolence that is sickening and killing the people of Marlind.

Alisha isn’t particularly useful this week, as her attempts to heal the townsfolk with medicine have no effect, to her frustration. However, sometimes it’s about who you know, not what you can personally do…and Alisha knows Sorey, who is happy to help.

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Edna and Lailah aren’t enough to help Sorey rid the city of the drake’s reign of terror; it takes the sudden arrival of Mikleo, whom Sorey can sense and knows everything will work out. Forming a quick sub bond with Sorey and Lailah, Mikleo’s power turns Super-Sorey blue, and they take out the drake with a purifying water-based arrow.

The drake is toast, and the clouds around the city part. It’s good to see everyone back together, and the episode looked and sounded great as usual…but it also felt very neat and tidy, and after last week’s scrap with Eizen, the enemies seemed like pushovers.

There’s also the looming certainty that if this series wraps in three weeks, a satisfying solution worthy of all the buildup won’t be forthcoming. I’m hoping, as with F/s n, the story will continue after a season or two off.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 13 (Fin)

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Still basking in the awe and enormity of the biggest event of her young career (which is even more enormous in her dreams), Futaba is feeling a bit listless and aimless, which isn’t a good place to be what with her assessment at Aozora looming. Despite her secondary circle of friends (who are either still trying to become seiyus or moving on to other things) believing she’s “super-elite”, Futaba can’t hide her relatively quiet and undistinguished past two years. Sure she’s worked with plenty of legends, but if she doesn’t want to get fired (and go through with her promise to give up on a seiyu’s life if she is), she needs to think more about her future; find a focus; anything to tell the assessment panel.

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She sees a glimmer of that future when she imitates a passing boy, which is doubly significant because A.) she’s so good at voicing boys she gave Ichigo and Rin a start, and B.) the boy was talking about how not to get lost: Remember something big that doesn’t move. As a city-dweller who’s bad with directions, I myself lived by this advice…at least until I got a smartphone with Google Maps (and devised a mnemonic device for memorizing street names).

But I digress: When Futaba first shows up to the slaughterhouse office for her assessment, the atmosphere is suffused with dread and despair, as everyone who exits that room comes out looking miserable. When she takes her seat before a rather intimidating row of assessors, barking questions one after the other, she very nearly loses her nerve, but still manages to get out where she sees herself in the future.

She wants to be a seiyu for a long time. It’s possibly an even more ambitious goal than being a main character or famous heroine, due to the dropoff of seiyu work for most people after 30. But she tells the panel it’s a goal she aspires to all the same, and one she counts on making a reality.

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This week also features Ichigo (her foot now healed a month after the concert) auditioning for and winning the voice role of a local strawberry mascot, and Rin taking and passing her entrance exams. But the spotlight this week, as it was in SgS’s first episode, is Futaba, who despite having never been able to land a main character role, is the main character here. And it’s very apropos for us to see every excruciating minute of her struggles this week, while the others have a relatively easy time off-camera. This is how it’s always been.

But it’s also a welcome development that Ichigo and Rin are right there when Futaba gets The Call—one that starts out ominously but turns out to be a great relief: she’s being given another year to prove herself—and the three are able to celebrate their hard-one individual victories as a unit. Along with Ichigo and Rin, Futaba looks poised to continue working hard in that unit, which will hopefully get her more attention and more roles; especially if she pitches herself as a boy-voice specialist. And the time ahead of her will be more distinguished than the time behind her. Because the Seiyu’s Life is the only life for her!

Like Futaba in the seiyu world, Sore ga Seiyuu! may not be the flashiest or the most watched or lauded, but also like Futaba, it was more often than not extremely fun and rewarding watch full of a unique energy and modesty as it brought insight to the world of a quirky profession while making observations relatable in any profession.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Rundown: GONZO, a studio I haven’t seen or heard a lot from in a while, tells the tale of Ichinose Futaba, a newcomer seiyu braving the harrowing rapids of anime voice recording, as her plushie “advisor” Korori explains the procedures, intricacies, and foibles of such a life. In the process of recording for an Eva-style mecha series, Futaba meets the talented Kohana Rin and the energetic and equally new Moesaki Ichigo.

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Pros: There are many, as this was a lot better than I expected. Futaba is a great protagonist to follow, as she’s determined to work hard at her craft but is clearly new to the industry and thus prone to errors, freeze-ups, and over-thinking. This is a show that gives you the gist of what’s going on, then lets you get lost at times along with Futaba, along with sweating all the little enlightening details about the business, from greeting everyone personally (which you’d think would overtax one’s voice), to where you sit and which mic you’ll walk to.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t bestow praise on, well, the seiyus, in particular Takanashi Rie, who actually had more roles to play than just Futaba and Korori. She and the other two seiyus are unfamiliar to me because like their characters, they’re all pretty new, but they handled themselves well in a fast-paced, dense, procedural first episode. The OP and ED (the latter of which featured a brief bit of the EVA theme) were also nicely done.

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Cons: They are few. I think this show could have benefited from characters that look less like, well, anime characters, or who at least had ordinary hair color; all the skittles hair kinda detracts from the reality. I was particularly distracted by how much Futaba resembles Nagato Yuki, in build, hair color and style, and glasses. The constant cuts to Korori (Futaba’s plushie) explaining things were certainly informative, but disrupted the already fine rhythm of Futaba’s busy day.

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Verdict: Like Dandelion, and Working!!!, SgS is a fun, lightweight slice-of-life that requires minimal psychological investment. In other words, it’s easy to watch. And I’ll confess, I once enrolled in a voice-acting class at my local learning tree, so it’s definitely a world I’ve considered entering (even if it’s likely quite different in America).

But seiyu-ing aside, the show does a great job putting us in the shoes of someone who has just entered a very specialized, exacting industry, and while she hasn’t quite found her footing, she’s not alone, and she eventually will.

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