Kakegurui – 02

Yumeko considers Ryouta a friend—even to the point of first-name terms—but he doesn’t seem like her romantic interest. At the moment, that seems to be gambling itself, with only the highest of risks giving her any kind of pleasure. But the OP strongly suggests a very close relationship to come with the yuki-onna-looking student council president, Momobari Kirari.

In a bit of necessary exposition, Ryouta tells Yumeko that ever since Mombari rose to power (winning her position from the predecessor with gambling, natch) the bullying of the “livestock”—the 100 or so students with the least luck and hence most debt—has intensified exponentially. Thanks to Yumeko’s gift, Ryouta is no longer a “Fido”, but after her defeat Mary is a “Lassie”, and doesn’t take to it well.

But Yumeko has little time to concern herself with those she’s already beaten; she seeks a stronger opponent, and this week they come to her: the youngest member of the council, first-year Sumeragi Itsuki, daughter of a multi-billion-yen toy company CEO.

Itsuki challenges Yumeko to a game of “Double Card Memory” involving two freshly-opened decks of cards provided by Itsuki and—as I figured—also manufactured by her dad’s company so that she can cheat people.

For the second straight week, it would appear that those at the top of the pile at Hyakkaou Academy aren’t there by playing by the rules or even being exceptionally lucky—it’s more a matter of creating a way to make your own luck.

In the case of Sumeragi Itsuki, she uses a tiny part of the back-of-card design to let her know which deck is which on the table. Once she beats Yumeko in the first match—winning the 20 million she fronted Yumeko—Yumeko tearfully begs her for a rematch, even agreeing to go along with what Itsuki wants Yumeko to front: her fingernails and toenails, which Itsuki obsessively collects and decorates. Ew!

Unfortunately for the freshman, Yumeko not only has exceptional memory, but saw through her trump, and never gives her an opportunity to flip a single card in the rematch. It’s only when Itsuka goes a bit mad that Yumeko gladly joins in the madness. And when she recommends Itsuka wager her nails, it reduces her opponent to big soppy tears.

Yumeko responds to the shameless display with disgust; after a second “gamblinggasm”, Yumeko has been made officially “bored” by the simpering Itsuka. On to the next victi-er, opponent.

President Momobari quickly hears of Sumeragi’s defeat and Yumeko’s quick rise, and instructs the rest of the (very eccentric) student council to start “meddling in her affairs,” clearly intrigued by this newcomer and eager to test the limits of her prowess—if they indeed exist!

Ryouta accompanies Yumeko to the after-hours games at the traditional culture research club, and come upon yet another pathetic scene: Saotome Mary digging her debt-hole over 49 million yen deeper. I wonder if this will be an ongoing thing with Mary losing more and more, or if Yumeko will find it in her heart to save her first victim the same way she saved Ryouta, who was only ever nice to her.

In any case, I’m enjoying the friendliness and politeness with which students challenge one another, a facade which gradually devolves into face-contorting madness, over-the-top posturing and yelling, and the aforementioned “gamblinggasms.” Kakegurui can be thick on the explaining, but is generally just flat-out fun.

Little Witch Academia – 18

Miracle Magical Shining Tornado Punch!

The Gist: Constanze is the side character of choice this week and the setup is a popular ghost hunting event called Wild Hunt, which Croix has somehow gotten Constanze permission to participate in. Akko wouldn’t have any role to play at all, were it not for her ability to cause havoc (she destroys one of Constanze’s mech helpers) and her neurotic urge to ‘help’ (she feels righteously driven to make up for destroying the mech, no matter how much additional damage she causes and how many times Constanze chases her away)

There’s a lot of legacy Gianax/Trigger going on here, with TTGL-style mecha fights — pushing to the limit — as well as Space Patrol Luluco style anachronistic aesthetic blends. (Rocket Powered Pirate Ship) While these nods are executed very well, with all the tongue and cheek over the top delivery you would expect, they are transparent call backs to better series from the companies past, and that ultimately points out how not-glory-days LWA is itself at present.

As to Constanze herself… there isn’t a lick of dialog. Nor, really, is background provided. She’s this generation’s only technomage, but she doesn’t have a strong connection with Croix (they are never in the same scene together) and that tech/magic blending doesn’t even draw comment from the other students or teachers. That’s stuff we already knew of course and the only additions are the implication that she is a deeply unhappy girl, a loner, who’s parents took a family photo in front of a swedish tall ship once… yeah, not much there?

You could probably argue that Constanze experienced character development this week. Slowly accepting Akko, even seeing value in Akko’s silly mech-drawing, and ending on a smile… but who cares? Constanze has existed as little more than background art for seventeen episodes so far. Again, who cares?

So we have another generic Croix-villain plot, featuring another B-cast member tagging along with Akko, that ends with Croix closer to whatever her villainy is but Akko gaining another friend, which will probably be necessary to unlock the final word or words. No word was unlocked this week and nothing consequential about the plot was revealed to the characters. Sucy and Lotte aren’t even in the story, save some background elements. Diana isn’t in the episode at all.

So why do am giving this week a higher rating than last? For all its negatives, in a vacuum, this episode just had more charm — and a heck of a lot more creative visuals too. Yes, it was completely generic by Trigger’s elite standards but those standards provide powerful emotional anchors and excitement all the same.

The Verdict: as a series, LWA is profoundly ill constructed. Gradually introducing more classmates as part of Akko’s world is fine but giving them stand alone episodes in the last act of a second season is idiotic. Even more so when it cuts the main cast out of the story. (I guess Diana’s research into Ursula’s true identity is just gonna… wait a bit) Beating the villains doesn’t feel earned and the world-building-elements just come out of nowhere. (For a show so full of details, I kinda wish we’d had more build up for the wild hunt… or a pay off)

But as a self contained episode it was fun and, if it had happened 10 episodes ago, it would have done wonders to round out the classmates. That said, if the pattern holds, next week will feature the girl who’s always eating… and I can not imagine that being remotely as interesting.

Little Witch Academia – 17

The Gist: Shiny Rod indicates the 5th word is nearing but, before Professor Ursula can tell Akko much more than ‘it has to do with tradition’ she’s whisked away by school duties. So Akko and a very angsty Amanda O’neal head of to the Appleton Academy, which may be the hiding place of the Holy Grail. Hey, if the Holy Grail isn’t traditional enough, what would be?

Unfortunately, AA is an all boys school full of rich jerks that hate magic. Surprisingly, Amanda is able to pass for a while, but not before king of the jerks Louis Blackwell more or less becomes the main character of the episode. His father is chairman of the school and the Nation’s Minister of Defense but… its a very questionable decision to introduce another new character for an already bloated cast seventeen episodes in. Even less so when he’s just an assier version of Andrew…

Speaking of Andrew, he has a nice conversation with Akko which demonstrates how different their world views are. He is driven by duty and nearly only does things he is required to do, where she is driven by a sense of purpose and personal desire and almost never does what she is expected. The message clearly started to connect with Andrew, and was driven home even more when Akko wanders off before he finishes a tirade. (before he notices she’s left)

Eventually, Andrew has to intervene when Louis captures the girls. Being Andrew, his solution is to propose a formal duel, as is tradition at the academy. This goes well for Amanda twice and, as she’s saved Louise’ life by the end, she is free to go. Maybe the witches even gain a few young allies to boot!

The Verdict: LWA continues to do everything wrong but somehow be just charming enough to keep my attention. I appreciate that Akko doesn’t unlock a word this week but, in structure, the episode unfolds the same way it would have if that had been the case. It’s a weird throw-away module featuring mostly side characters and barely hinting at the core plot.

Amanda x Louis’ duel was nice enough (Amanda’s Chun’Li spinning kick was totally boss) but Amanda herself isn’t a terribly likable character and resolving that she will ultimately stay at school with Akko due to friendship solves a problem we didn’t have before this episode.

Sprinkel in a ton of unanimated panning shots, a very straight forward ‘Croix is still up to no good’ thread, and you have a big pile of meh?

Little Witch Academia – 16

The Gist: Team Akko visits Lotte’s family and immediately befalls an outrageously rare curse that slowly turns everyone into moss. (before eventual death) Without adult supervision, the Girls must band together and collect the ingredients for a cure. However, Akko quickly becomes the only one left and, not knowing the area or as much about magic as her friends, she struggles until the end.

But this is LWA we’re talking about. Akko learns patience and, coupled with her natural endurance, and Shiny Rod, she saves the day and unlocks another word! (MAYENAB DYSHEEBUDO)

This week gave us some great set pieces like the Yeti who’s self conscious due to internet bullying, the irritated reindeer who’s poop Akko must collect, and the general goofiness of the curse.

It also carried the usual Akko/Sucy/Lotte charm, with Sucy’s love of the Hapansilakka pies (and Akko’s hatred of it) playing for some good laughs.

However, episode 16 is absolutely rushed and it’s point about Akko needing to learn patience was too simplistic. The fact that we learn anger is the most efficient medium for magic to be absorbed by the villain’s robo/magic devices doesn’t really add anything. More so, because we see this from a disconnected viewer-point of view, and not through a revelation to our heroes.

If LWA was only 12 episodes long, I could forgive it, but that’s not the case. More importantly, many of the first 12 episodes felt rudderless and pointless diversions from the central plot.

The Verdict: From the moment Professor Ursula says the next word is something Akko lacks and really needs to learn, the entire point of the episode becomes groan-inducingly clear. It’s all delivered well enough, with plenty of quirky LWA details and nice animation, but there’s nothing creative under the surface.

Hopefully, Akko will learn the next few words through a more dramatic (or at least touching) process. Otherwise, the gains the show has made by establishing it’s long term focus will quickly fall apart.

Sagrada Reset – 04

Occasionally, I like a show that keeps me engaged; that challenges me; that even leaves me in the dust if I’m not sufficiently aware. Sagrada Reset is all of those things so far, and there’s a genuine thrill in not knowing just what the hell is going to transpire from one episode to the next, in addition to being emotionally invested in the characters—something that didn’t seem feasible in episode one.

Sagrada is also dense, and if you blink you might miss a reset or a vital piece of information. For all its seeming randomness, it builds, so far, off every little event and detail it’s presented thus far. It doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence, it demands it, and it won’t hold your hand. That can make it hard to follow, even frustrating at times, but despite getting a little lost at times I felt it still holds together.

This week is a particularly bloody and violent episode, as Asai promptly learns that Minami Mirai was killed by Hisuchi-kun, hence her becoming a ghost that haunts him to start the episode.

Of course, she wasn’t just shot or strangled, she was killed when Hisuchi, who gains nourishment not from food (he’s an intense germaphobe) but from information he sucks out of others like an intel vampire. Minami had too much, and he went to far. He didn’t mean to kill her; it just happened.

But just when Asai and Haruki are wrapping their heads around the murder, they are confronted by Murase Youka, whose sudden violent, homicidal outburst would be out of character if we knew her character. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we later learn there’s a very good reason for her very odd, violent behavior, and it all comes down to Haruki’s Reset ability.

Asai orders Haruki to reset before Murase kills him. Back at school, Haruki is glad when Asai tells her they haven’t gone to the festival yet (girl wants her DATE). They visit Tsushima for answers, and he tells them more about the “MacGuffin”, which enables anyone who possesses it to control all the special abilities in Sakurada…only to then tell them exactly what and where it is, obviously trusting his students won’t take it.

Someone does take it…or rather, ends up with it by chance. That person is Minami, who isn’t killed by Hisuchi-kun this time because Asai and Haruki visit him. They’re joined by Murase, whose knowledge indicates to Asai that she’s able to remember two resets back, but not one. He also learns about her M.O.—her desire to destroy and remake the bureau into something more effective after it failed to save her brother.

Indeed, it’s Murase who helps them find Hisuchi’s house, using her ability in a way I didn’t expect (while explaining the hand-shaped hole in the wall last week). Hisuchi tells them about Minami ending up with the stone, and he helped her because he was guilty for killing her.

I’d say that that never happened, but it actually did, and Haruki’s ability didn’t negate that fact, it merely rewound and, well, reset things to her last save. Murase ends up stealing the MacGuffin from Minami, lightly wounding her in the process, but Asai assures Haruki they don’t have to go after her. All will be taken care of in due time.

In the meantime, Tsushima gives Asai a new job: to convince a truant, Murase, to come back to school. To do that, Tsushima believes Murase needs to be utterly defeated, to show her that she still has more to learn before starting a revolution against the Bureau.

Asai visits Nono Seika with some takoyaki, to muse over the Murase situation in a calm place. And he thinks of Souma Sumire, who told him its better to say something than nothing, even if it’s bad, and to not be afraid.

After that, it’s his big little date with Haruki, who is resplendent in her yukata, and doesn’t just smile but blushes upon receiving the gift of a hairpin. It didn’t look like Asai was paying attention to her when she spotted it, but clearly he did. I loved that little detail.

He asks Haruki for a favor, and the next day we see she’s joined him beside the river to confront Murase. She thinks they’re ready to join her cause, but Asai wants to test her abilities first. Haruki saves, then she obliges, and Asai offers almost no resistance as she puts her finger through his hand. During the fight he suspects she attacked them the first time because she wanted a reset for herself, to forget Minami Mirai’s death.

An increasingly agitated Murase is certain she has Asai in checkmate, even noting that if Haruki resets, he’s only two steps away from her, and she could easily defeat him before he had time to do anything. But it’s Murase who’s in check, as Asai moves his head into her hand, which goes through it, killing him horribly. He does this before ordering Haruki to reset…so she doesn’t.

Then something I didn’t expect happened: Nanako Tomoki beams his voice into Haruki’s head, then Asai’s voice comes through—in that moment, a ghost, just like Minami was—giving Haruki the reset order. She resets, and Minami remains where she is: exactly in a location where when Asai said “Bang”, it looks like he struck her down.

Stunned by this course of events, Murase promptly concedes defeat, which means she’ll honor the terms of their agreement, return to school, one day join the bureau, and make it better that way. Asai also tells her the cat is fine, chilling with Nonoo. He holds out his hand to shake hers in order to celebrate their new friendship.

He’s quite sure that her ability has worn off, making it safe to touch her, but the episode still ends just before they touch, so good it is at messing with us. Still, it’s mission accomplished—and what a baller mission it turned out to be.

Sagrada Reset – 03

Two years have passed, as has Souma Sumire, and Asai Kei is a lot more careful about changing the future after losing her. But when client Murase Youka comes to them requesting they revive her cat (recently killed by one of the anime world’s infamous murderous drivers), he dives into the mission with what passes for him as enthusiasm. It would, after all, prevent the client from shedding tears (though she doesn’t strike me as the emotional type) and that’s the reason Asai got into this business with Haruki.

As Asai and Haruki investigate (which leads them to a cat-loving and cat mind-inhabiting informant) there’s an ongoing flirtation being carried out, mostly by Haruki. Sure, Haruki is kind of muddling through, and Asai isn’t the most receptive (he’s seemingly put off when she talks like a cat or asks if she should wear a new yukata or miniskirt), and it might be the stealthiest romance of the season…but it’s a romance in play nonetheless.

That, and Hanazawa Kana’s measured but increasingly warm delivery, keeps me from going all Seika Nono and falling asleep over this show. I’m not going to make excuses, it is slow, and deliberate, and sometimes boring. But last week showed that if one is patient with Sagrada Reset, one has a tendency to be rewarded accordingly.

So it is that Asai’s classmate Minami Mirai (a fan of the occult) ends up suspended above his bed on a (second) saturday morning. Somehow saving the cat resulted in a present very different than the one Asai wakes up to at the start of the episode. And it all has something to do with what Murase was doing while Asai and Haruki were saving her cat. We know she can fly, so that’s a start. But so far, this show solves mysteries in episode pairs, so we’ll have to wait until next week to see where this is going (or where it’s gone).

Little Witch Academia – 15

The Gist: Professor Croix’s villainy is finally revealed, as is Akko’s destiny. This is in large part because Akko is lured to Croix’s lab and experimented on in her sleep, in the name of learning more about Chariot (and Shiny Rod). All of this leads to a magic battle with Ursula, which results in an anticlimactic stand off, despite some impressive effects leading up to it.

Having no time to waste, Ursula lays out the history of the great tree, of which only the leylines remain, and the importance of the 7 words, and that Akko’s spirit has been reviving them. She literally walks Akko through the memories of waking these words, which fills Akko with purpose and joy.

However, for whatever reason, she does not reveal that she is Chariot, nor does she warn Akko of Croix’s motives…

The good bits stuck close to Ursula this week. While the resulting face off with Croix was anti-climactic and unnecessary, Ursula’s battle up the steps of the new moon tower was nicely animated and gave us a great look at the powers of a competent witch. It was also nicely foreshadowed, as Akko walked past the dangerous looking archer statues and creepy decorations.

Ursula’s motherly explanation to Akko about the words was full of great feels too. While I don’t think a secret mother-daughter plot will be revealed, the filial love and pride was all there, and it was delivered with respectable subtlety.

As interesting side notes, there’s division amongst the students over Croix. While some students carry their tablets openly (reading ongoing stories about the shooting star no less) others like Amanda don’t see the point. If magic and science are the same thing, what is the value of magic in the first place?

Meanwhile, Diana Is starting to figure out Ursula is more than meets the eye. I suspect she will reveal the identity to Akko, which will pose a short term betrayal twist for Akko/Croix vs Ursula, before Akko x Diana join forces to save the day… but I suspect that’s many episodes off yet. (Diana is still looking for Ursula in the old Luna Nova year books)

The Verdict: Unfortunately, Little Witch Academia remains a not especially well constructed narrative. This is most obvious in the show’s use of repetition of scenes, which feel like a mix of filler and a lack of confidence in the audience to get (or even remember) what was important in previous episodes. Given the sluggish pacing and lack of focus, that lack of faith may even be deserved, but it feels no less like a cop out.

Take Croix as an example of LWA’s clunky structure. Not only is Croix not foreshadowed or built up in the first 13 episodes, but Croix herself claims to have been secretly observing Akko all this time. This makes her appearance as an antagonist feel rushed and tacked on and that lack of build up robbed the first season of purpose.

Compare this to the bizarre choice to keep Shooting Star as a recurring element that will, no doubt, play a roll in Akko’s eventual success — or compare it to Diana being in the crowd behind Akko at Chariot’s show during their childhoods’ — and you just have to wonder why Croix didn’t receive the same treatment? For goodness sakes, Andrew has had more build up than Croix, and he remains without any relevant narrative purpose…

In the end, the heart and rendering style carry LWA just above a 7, but not by much. I may go so far as say it’s the most disappointing show I’ve reviewed in a while, and the most disappointing I would still recommend you view.

Sakura Quest – 02

Yoshino I is still very much The Reluctant Queen, but Ushimatsu doesn’t care, and sets her to work immediately. He’ll let her vacate her one-year contract if she can sell a hundred a thousand boxes of “Chupakabura manju” sweets he ordered to celebrate her coronation. And she only has a week to do it—that’s their “best enjoyed by” date.

It’s clear Shiori doesn’t want her new queen to leave so soon, but she still helps Yoshino out, connecting her first with her timid but tech-savvy childhood friend Ririko, whose mother runs Manoyama’s sweet shop. The encounter helps Yoshino decide on the proper marketing strategy to sell the manju: a website.

For that, Shiori takes Yoshino to the home of another Tokyo ex-pat, Kouzuki Sanae, who seems to be slowly losing it in her dark, litter-filled apartment. When she screams due to a bug, Shiori and Yoshino barge in, and Shiori, like a boss, takes care of the bug while the other two cower. Between Riri and Sanae, I’m loving the detailed, isolated, lived-in little worlds these women inhabit within the town.

Sanae is eager to help her new town out (as well as for human contact) so she works through the night at Yoshino and Maki’s cabin to whip up a “fancyccult” website. Alas, on the first day of sales, Yoshino manages to part with precisely zero of one thousands boxes of manju.

When they try to make the queen seem contrite about ordering too much (after far too many hilarious provisos were attached to her beauty), that results of the sale of three boxes…to Shiori’s family.

Taking things up a notch, they decide to take Maki’s advice and make a video. Maki, AKA “The Oden Detective”, who has experience in acting, superhero shows, and part-time labor, plays the chupakabura, while Riri is the cameraperson.

It’s a modest but cute little production…but it only results in netting one more sale—to the creepy (Westerner?) musician Yoshi first met on the bus. The week comes and goes, and Yoshino is pathetically short of the thousand sales needed to release her from her year-long contract. 996 sales short, to be exact. And yet…she learns that’s not such a big deal.

When she asked Sanae why she left Tokyo, Sanae said she was simply sick of it. Sick of Tokyo, thought Yoshino? The place that has everything and where you can do anything? Where countless opportunities abound? Yoshino has this idea that she can’t make it anywhere if she can’t make it there, but she has it all backwards.

The economy of Tokyo alone may surpass the entire economy of South Korea, but if you apply to thirty-two companies and get thirty-two rejections, then end up with a gig as queen of Manoyama, maybe the universe is trying to tell you something: that, as Sanae says, “you don’t need Tokyo.”

At the end of the week, Yoshino made some great friends and had a lot of fun. So when Shiori tells her the cherry blossoms won’t come for a couple more weeks, she decides, all on her own, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world to spend those couple more weeks in Manoyama. And as much as I too love and admire Tokyo, I don’t blame her. She’s got a good thing going here. And she’s not anywhere near her ‘golden years’!

Sagrada Reset – 02

Just when Asai determines Mari is the result of her mother’s ability to create a clone of her never-born daughter, an agent of the “Bureau” (or “Kanrikyoku”), Tsushima, arrives to take her away.

The father left town, and now the mother will do the same, leaving the virtual Mari a virtual orphan. That doesn’t sit right with Asai, so he has Haruki reset, and the formulation of a plan commences.

It’s actually pretty impressive how quickly and efficiently Asai directs the service he and Haruki are likely going to be providing throughout the run of the show: “erasing tears” by resetting and fixing the cause of those tears.

Their classmates assist with their own abilities, but when the one who allows Asai to share his memories with Haruki bristles at the prospect of defying the Bureau, Asai cuts himself with a broken ramune bottle until Tsushima gives permission.

Everything works out perfectly: Asai, with the help of the rest of the group, is able to show Mari’s mother the error of her ways; to stay and continue raising the girl who may not technically be her real daughter, but loves her nonetheless.

With Haruki and his classmates’ combined powers, Asai has gained the power to “erase sadness.” In the process, he’s also managed to awaken some feelings in Haruki, though the road is long.

He discusses this in great detail with Souma Sumire, who is a tough nut to crack: you get the feeling she’s glad Asai may have found his calling, but a part of her also regrets bringing him and Haruki closer together.

Mind you, the relationship between Asai and Haruki doesn’t become a romance overnight. After all, Haruki has only gained back a small portion of the full spectrum of emotions most humans carry and experience. She cuts her hair at his suggestion, but also confuses trust with love. Asai proves it when they kiss and there’s no spark.

Then he undoes the premature kiss by asking her to reset. After seeing what they managed to accomplish with Mari and her mother, Haruki believes following Asai’s lead is her “zeroth rule”, so she complies.

But in the period between Haruki’s Save Point and her Reset, Souma Sumire falls from the bridge, into the river, and dies, as we witnessed at the end of last week’s episode. Seeing her wearing the dress and holding the red umbrella rendered her a dead girl walking, and gave her last conversation with Asai far more significance than he could comprehend at the time.

When Haruki finds Asai quietly mourning on the rooftop, she demands he instruct her to reset…unaware she just did, and it’s too late. When she sees Asai crying, she can’t help but do the same. She’s following his lead, but also realizing that this is what the two of them have to stop from happening to others at all costs.

There’s a huge jump of two years to when Asai and Haruki, now high schoolers, are recruited by Tsushima into a Bureau-sanctioned “Service Club”, where they can erase sadness in an official (and supervised) capacity.

It’s a pretty jarring time leap, to be honest, but it means the first two episodes were always meant to be a prologue in which the pairing of Asai and Haruki was made and their shared calling revealed. Now the real work begins: both the sadness-erasure work, and the emotional-awakening-of-Haruki work.

Little Witch Academia – 14

The Gist: Luna Nova’s faeries form a workers union and go on strike. This is due to the very meager amount of life-giving magic energy shared with them by the school but the school cannot afford to give them more. Magic is fading from the world, after all.

An angry Akko attempts to break up the union but manages to be swayed by their argument. So much so that the faeries make her the union’s general secretary, which leads to a great scene where Akko shuts down Diana with chants of ‘Aristocrat.’ Also, the faeries seal off the philosopher’s stone, which shuts off everyone’s ability to cast magic.

Enter Professor Croix on a flying Roomba, who will teach modern magic and has begun integrating magic and technology, and is most definitely not secretly behind the strike, with her robots nor her need to get the school to buy into her research program. Her program, Sorcery Solution System, can fix the dwindling magic issues for everyone, and does, for now…

The Good: This week was full of clever details and subtle humor. From Croix’s flying roombas being the ‘evolution’ of brooms, to the headmistress’ “Oh my, what a textbook downward trend” response to a magic PowerPoint presentation, to the Shooting Star being featured on the back of Akko’s newspaper again, the world and the people in it all get a great deal of building up. (and it’s funny and charming to boot)

It’s also interesting to see parallels between Akko x Diana and Ursula x Croix, and to play with Akko being quite taken with Croix, and still unaware that Ursula is actually Chariot, the one witch Akko would align with most strongly in the world. (But may no longer, since Ursula has cocked up revealing the destiny plot for so long)

The Meh: The new opening credits sequence is clunky. It presents the Akko x Diana conflict and future Croix x Ursula conflict way too obviously, with little visual flair and forgettable music.

It’s also jarring to introduce a central villain in the second season of a show and, while that villain mirrors other themes established in the first season (magic’s inability to adapt to a technological era), it’s just so out of left field. (“Oh here’s the new teacher” is literally quipped by the headmistress.) More over, the ‘tragedy’ of Ursula not being able to tell Akko about her destiny comes off as hamfisted McShakespeare.

The Verdict: Little Witch Academia is the Anakin Skywalker of Anime. It’s the theoretical perfect storm of natural talent, it plugs into something we want to see more of (anything from Trigger) but the production around it is constructed with such a solid lack of common sense and competent story telling that you could often be excused for thinking you could write something better.

Will it go Darth Vader and kill all its younglings, or will it stay focused and never give me a reason to use a clunky Star Wars metaphor again? Only time will tell!

Sakura Quest – 01 (First Impressions)

Koharu Yoshino has a memory of being crowned Queen when she was very little, and ever since, has felt like she was meant for greater things; that she wasn’t just a normal girl who escaped the sticks to attend college in Tokyo. Now 20, reality seems to mock Yoshino’s pretensions of royalty, and her phone’s inbox amasses “good luck” in the form of polite rejections from job interviews.

The last thing Yoshino wants is to move back in with her folks in her sleepy, aging speck hometown, and as a city boy myself, I can relate to never wanting to stray too far from the gleaming skyscrapers and sheer dense humanity of a big city.

But she’s down to 980 yen in her bank account, and when she graduates from college, her parents will either welcome her back with open arms, or cut her off. Gal needs cash, fast. So when she gets a phone call from a promotional agency she once modeled for (and by once I mean one time), offering work in the sleepy town of Manoyama, she’s in no position to decline. 980 yen will not get you far in Tokyo, after all.

So when the convertred City Girl takes the train out to Manoyama and catches the picturesque sight of mountains, gently rolling hills, farmland, and sky, she declares “there’s nothing here” and wonders if she got on the wrong train.

She didn’t, but it would seem she is the wrong Koharu. The town board chief Ushimatsu fumes about her not being the beloved (by him) idol Koharu Tsubaki, whom he meant to crown as Queen of the “Kingdom of Chupakabura”, part of a common practice of small towns raising “independent countries” for tourism purposes during the boom years.

Though the boom went bust, Ushimatsu is committed to restoring the “monarchy” and, hopefully, his rapidly aging and emptying town. Since Tsubaki died eight years ago, he settles for Yoshino, and her coronation is witnessed by a modest crowd of 150 (Note the similarity to Yoshino’s hazy memory of being a Queen).

After the coronation, Yoshino is honored with a feast—albeit just another night of eating and beer-drinking with the old town board members. It’s a warm and welcoming sight, but one gets the feeling she’s not planning on staying more than a day, and may even head back to the station and Tokyo before too long.

These are the dreaded sticks, after all. She sees the shuttered shops and wrinkled faces and remembers the hometown she left and to where she vowed never to return.

But when Shiori (who is her age) drops her off at an absolutely awesome log cabin, she meets another beautiful young woman who gives her a rude awakening: the Queen position is for a year, not a day. It was right there, black-and-white, clear as crystal, in her contract, which she clearly just skimmed.

Unable to accept her fate, Yoshino dashes out into the night, but there’s a weird ukulele player on the bus (her announcement she’s getting off and slow backing out of the bus is the best gag of the ep) and even though it’s barely 10pm, the station is closed.

She even encounters the town’s famed “Chupakabura”, the monster of legend ‘her’ kingdom is named after, and “saves” Shiori by smacking it good, revealing it’s Ushimatsu she smacked. On the ride back to the cabin, Shiori offers her heartfelt hope that Yoshino will stay, if for no other reason than so she can have someone her own age around, working together to make the town a livelier place.

Yoshino is grateful for the kind words, and the positive vibes she starts to get from the town only multiply when she returns to her ‘castle’ (the cabin was locked). A display of photos shows that she was here before. Not only that, as a little girl she was the kingdom’s 100,000th visitor, and crowned as Queen back then.

The realization that her memory was indeed real, and imbued in her a sense of privilege, was a really nice moment, but it doesn’t transform Yoshino; she’s still reluctant to stay and be Queen of Chupakabura, but with her last job prospect back in Tokyo fizzling out, she doesn’t have much choice.

Sakura Quest was a fun ride. Yoshino is an interesting character: she’s not a high schooler for once, but an adult, albeit a young one, and perhaps because of that her jadedness is much more susceptible to neutralization than she thinks. The rest of the cast seems strong too, and the show itself looks great. This has the makings of another P.A. Works winner so far.

Sagrada Reset – 01 (First Impressions)

Asai Kei is introduced by class rep Souma Sumire to Haruki Misora, a stoic and seemingly emotionless girl who has no friends. Because Haruki has the ability to “reset” the world up to 3 days into the past, and Kei has a supernatural five-sense memory, Souma believes they’re perfectly suited to joining forces for good.

Sagrada (or Sakurada) Reset is a bit of an odd duck, like its two leads. On the one hand, it subtly, delicately paints the picture of a small town that is totally normal except for the fact that half of its residents possess supernatural powers. It also delves, if not too deeply, into some interesting philosophical ideas about what constitutes “goodness”—Sumire’s story of Zen and Gizen to Asai being one of the episode’s high points.

But there are a few issues. First of all, this episode felt like it took forever to run, and although it accomplished a lot, it just didn’t feel that eventful. That may be okay in a 24-episode show, but the earlier a show can impress me and draw me in, the more likely I am to commit to such a show.

I also don’t mind a matter-of-fact, stoic duo, but that comes with the caveat that sometimes scenes are going to feel slow and listless. It didn’t help that this was a very talky episode, and neither Hanazawa Hana nor Ishikawa Kaito ever raise and barely modulate their voices throughout all this talking. Yuuki Aoi breathes some energy into Souma, but I wager she’d be the quiet character on any other show.

The episode also seemed reluctant to demonstrate the characters’ special abilities (and didn’t even name one for Souma, who may well not have one); indeed, if one were to blink when Haruki whispers “Reset” in the wind, you’d miss her ability altogether. Yet on another level, it’s intriguing that such powerful abilities are presented so plainly and elegantly, rather than, for example, a CGI light and effects show, or even worse, floating TV screens.

Two things at which Reset excels is its ambient sound design, and it’s awareness of its leisurely pace, which it uses to drop a sudden twist at the end: that the little girl Haruki has been sitting with recently has actually been dead for seven years. I definitely want to learn what’s up with that and how such a predicament will be resolved (presumably by our duo), and so there’s a hook for continuing to watch.

The “cold close” apparently showing Souma (same hair and eyes) falling off a bridge to her death compounds that desire to see what happens next. Like Akashic Records, there’s potential, but I’m banking on the fact that neither show’s strongest episode was its first. Unlike Akashic Records, there’s a stiltedness to the cast that exposes the fine line between ‘subtle, deliberate’ and just plain dull and tedious. So we’ll see.

Little Witch Academia – 13

The Gist: The Samhain Festival is quickly approaching and Team Akko can not escape their fate as sacrifices to the sorrowful ghost Vajarois…and Sucy and Lotte can not escape the feeling that Akko’s plan to make that sacrifice more fun, is just a lot of wasted effort.

However, things begin to turn around when Diana’s lackeys Hannah and Barbara pull Akko aside and chew her out for the ‘trick’ she played on her. While making fun of Akko’s place in life, they go out of their way to throw shade at Lotte’s lack of presence and Sucy’s creepiness…while those two are within earshot in the hall. And why not? Team Akko isn’t anything but the laughable leftover losers in their eyes, and in the eyes of much the rest of the school.

The Samhain Festival gets underway and it becomes quickly apparent that the guest witches’ opinion of Luna Nova isn’t much better than Andrew’s muggle father’s. The traditional events largely bore them, or are done incorrectly like the bubbling pot that spits slime at them or the dancing flower that eats one of the girls casting the spell.

Curiously, the guest witches heap much of their criticism at the feet of Luna Nova’s Grand Mistress, Miranda Holbrooke. This struck me as a bit strange, only because Holbrooke has come off as stodgy as Professors’ Badcock and Finneran (At least, she had until Akko had raised her father from the dead a few episodes ago). Regardless, the visiting witches don’t give any examples of why Holbrooke’s management has been deficient, though she certainly lets Team Akko run with their tradition breaking idea—going so far as to restrain the other professors from interfering.

Speaking of Team Akko, with an energized Sucy and Lotte now by her side, Akko puts on a slapsticky ‘Sacrifice Show’ for Vajarois and the guest witches. While many of the laughs are at Akko, whose magic transformations teeter on the edge of failure, the crowd is laughing and, eventually, the trio manages to lift Vajarois’ curse in a fantastic display of light and pleasure.

The emotion of it all even reaches Diana, who can’t wrap her head around what she’s seeing, and who she’s seeing do it. More interestingly, she’s shocked to learn that Akko’s group isn’t even allowed to qualify for “Moonlit Witch,” because they broke the rules, in spite of creating a good and unexpected result appreciated by all in attendance, including the dissipating ghost herself…

Thankfully, winning “Moonlit Witch” was never really the point for Akko. As much as she said otherwise, all she wanted was to do some magic that other people thought was fun, and to do it with her friends.

Confronting traditions seems to be the major theme this week. That, and that witches are overly focused on magic without practical application, and don’t appreciate that practical application is needed in their world, and needed to justify them to the non-magical world.

Like AkkoAmanda, Jasminka and Constanze put on a great show of skill cleaning up after the failures of the traditional performances and, like Akko, that trio is payed no mind at all because of their place in life (magical janitors).

Even Diana’s masterful performance rings a bit hollow, as summoning a magic unicorn doesn’t serve a practical application in comparison. Diana hasn’t made that exact connection yet, but it will be interesting to see if she carries more respect for Akko and the others into future episodes. Because she was impressed, even just for the magic’s sake, this time around.

The Verdict: LWA has re-tightened it’s grip on my heart these past few weeks. Putting aside the lackluster episodes that weakened that grip mid-season, LWA knows how to charm with western style slapstick (Sucy’s casual pointing as Team Akko plummets to the ground is pure Bugs Bunny) and simple power of friendship themes.

The battle against tradition is an interesting focus as well. Consider how strange it is that Luna Nova has had the ability to lift Vajarois‘ curse for ages—right there on the shelf—but none of the witches have bothered to investigate, let alone try it out. Its little wonder that a baffoon like Akko is needed to shake up their world.

How this all plays into Chariot’s secret identity and the greater magic words plot, who knows? (I didn’t see Akko unlock another word this time out) Regardless, it moved the characters along, the world along, and was a hoot to watch throughout!