BokuBen – 03 – Acts of Defiance

In direct and efficient 78-second cold open, Yuiga’s mission is suddenly made tougher: Furuhashi and Ogata must receive an average score or higher on the upcoming midterms. Both the headmaster and their former tutor (pink hair) believe its in the best general interest to steer the girls towards the fields of study in which they excel, believing their desire to study elsewhere frivolous.

The ex-tutor even considers it negligent not to press more strongly for the girls to get in their lane. The adults aren’t factoring Furuhashi or Ogata’s dreams or happiness into the equation. But Yuiga has been here before himself, and so he’s uniquely equipped to empathize with and fully support them in their bold endeavor to forge their own paths based on their passions, not their natural gifts.

Of course, only Furuhashi and Ogata overhear the headmaster and tutor, and now feel the pressure to succeed lest another tutor—and their favorite by far—be relieved of his duties (though I can’t imagine that would have stopped him from tutoring them anyway). Takemoto wonders why they look so down; she can sense the sudden heightened pressure now on their shoulders, and Ogata’s commitment to get results.

Now that all parties (save Takemoto) are aware of the raised bar for those results, Ogata, whose Japanese midterms come first, asks Yuiga to come to her house to supervise her studying. The fact she’s so comfortable not only inviting him, but also interacting with him at her family’s udon restaurant, speaks to the evolution of their relationship from adversarial and suspicious to something far more like a real friendship.

Meanwhile Yuiga isn’t just doing this so he’ll get a free ride; he has a philosophical horse in this race, plus he just likes these girls and wants to help if he can…not to mention Ogata looks fantastic in her restaurant outfit. He doesn’t know he’ll be fired if they fail, so Ogata simply asks the rhetorical question of what will happen if she fails. His answer—they’ll just keep studying for the next test—is comforting…as is his patting of her head.

When the day of the test comes, Ogata is immediately fearful when she sees parts of the test are areas she didn’t study as thoroughly, but resolves to do her best, and lo and behold, she scores an above-class-average 71, to her own bewilderment and Yuiga and Takemoto’s delight. Ogata refrains from mentioning out loud that a little bit of dumb luck factored into that score, but that’s just another reason to keep at it.

That means it’s up to Furuhashi. Only problem is, she has a cough and a high fever. Yuiga suggests she delay and take the make-up test; she declines, as it would mean an automatic 20% deduction in score (which hardly seems fair). To prepare, she invites Yuiga and Takemoto to her house…which turns out to be huge, with a genkan with more square footage than Yuiga’s living room.

Being unaccustomed to visiting female classmates at home, Yuiga takes Furuhashi’s “just come on in” too literally and walks in when she’s topless. Yuiga realizes the error of his ways and stays out until needed.

Just like he saw Ogata in a new light at her home, Yuiga learns something new about his old pal Takemoto: she’s a superb cook. When he likens her appearance to that a new wife, Takemoto’s imagination conjures a scene of domestic bliss between her and a salaryman Yuiga.

Turns out Takemoto was right: some hot food and rest were just what Furuhashi needed, and she feels ready for the midterms. Like Ogata, she voices her hope that he’ll keep tutoring her, and that she trusts she’ll reach her dreams if she sticks with him. Yuiga is flattered, but urges Furuhashi, whos pajamas a a little see-through, return to bed.

Furuhashi manages a score higher than average as well, impressing the headmaster and further irking the former tutor. Yuiga and the three girls celebrate at a family restaurant. Yuiga may not know that his tutoring job and VIP consideration was just saved.

With Ogata and Furuhashi out of the woods, the second half of the episode focuses on Takemoto Uruka, and IMO reinforces her standing as Best Girl. Her swim club friends, impatient with her pureness and lack of progress in nabbing Yuiga, take matters into their own hands by taking her to a hip clothier and dressing her up all adorable-like; a way in which she can’t help but feel extremely self-conscious.

In this suddenly out-of-sorts state achieved by her caring friends, Takemoto has no idea how she’d act around Yuiga, but immediately gets her chance as the two cross paths in town. Since she’s right next to the bookstore, she tells him she’s going to buy some textbooks; he decides to join her, while failing to remark on her very different and extremely cute new look.

While initially weary, Takemoto soon finds comfort and joy in being so close to Yuiga; feeling the warmth of his shoulder and feeling his breath in her ear as he talks. A little boy points at them and declares them a couple, and when a kid does that you know you look like one.

Outside the store, they come across a store selling an accessory Yuiga’s sister wants; but the competition to win it is couples-only. Sensing another opportunity, Takemoto seizes Yuiga by the arm and leads the way.

The competition turns out to be a “princess carry” endurance contest, and Takemoto is worried she’s too heavy because she’s recently gained a lot of muscle in swim club. She soon tears up about the prospect of being too heavy for Yuiga, but he interprets those tears as abject embarrassment over having to be held by him, and he commits himself to winning the contest, which they do.

Takemoto is happy beyond words. Her friends dressed her up cute so she’d more easily “attack” Yuiga, but the fact is she’s always wanted to be a princess; people have just noted her athleticism and placed her in the “tomboy” mold, and inertia has kept her there.

It was immensely fun to watch Takemoto’s girly side openly expressed. She was the third of three girls this week defiantly moving against the grain set for them by others, and her resulting glee really emanated through the screen. She may not have confessed—and perhaps never will!—but spending a day as a couple was at least something, and seemingly enough for her for now.

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BokuBen – 02 – The Third Tutee

When Yuiga reports the girls’ slow but steady progress to the headmaster, he gets a surprise: the assignment of another troubled student. This time, it’s someone he knows, and who has mooched homework and notes from him since middle school: the “Shimmering Ebony Mermaid Princess”, Takemoto Uruka.

While Furuhashi is a poet and Ogata is a scientist, Takemoto is a straight-up jock; going so full-on with swimming that she doesn’t even have time for studying. But as Yuiga informs her by the pool, colleges want more well-rounded enrollees, which means she’s going to have to study.

Takemoto reacts by physically running away, and while giving chase Yuiga falls in the pool and can’t swim. Takemoto rescues him, but he then captures her, and the first time Furuhashi and Ogata see the two together, it looks awfully like he’s assaulting her! Thankfully the misunderstanding is cleared up and the three become fast friends (or at least, Furuhashi and Takemoto do).

There’s another wrinkle to this beyond Yuiga adding to his stable of talented beauties: Takemoto likes him. She’s had feelings ever since she fortuitously overheard him say how he wouldn’t just give his homework and notes to anyone, and admires how much she sacrificed to be the best swimmer she could, and wants to help her if he can. Again, Yuiga is a nice guy, even when he thinks nobody’s watching.

He’s such a nice guy, he allows Ogata to come by his house (while his family is out) with the blatant bribe of her family’s udon (of which they’re quite proud) in exchange for help on an essay her teacher has rejected numerous times. The tutoring is interrupted by a invite to karaoke by Takemoto, but when Ogata mentions she’s at Yuiga, the ground shakes and suddenly Takemoto is there in a flash (she is a jock, after all!)

While she’s not overt about it, Takemoto probably isn’t so high on the idea of another girl spending time alone at Yuiga’s, so she invites herself to join the tutoring session. Only they get almost nowhere when the power goes out.

Ogata uncharacteristically clings to Yuiga, clearly afraid of the dark despite unconvincing claims to the contrary; Takemoto wants in on the fun too and so pretends to be afraid so she can cling to him too…only is too bashful and merely grabs some fabric.

Yuiga comforts the girls by crafting a makeshift candle that he studies by during the frequent blackouts his house experiences (another reminder of his family’s modest means). He reflects on how the lack of electricity brings people closer together, both physically and emotionally.

When Takemoto accidentally blows it out, he fumbles around in the pitch black; not a great idea when there’s two girls in close proximity. When the lights are back on both of them are scandalized and Ogata flees in a huff, but later we learn she managed to write an essay her teacher accepted, all thanks to Yuiga’s reflections on darkness and closeness.

A pink-haired teacher who will no doubt join Yuiga’s group at some point seems almost jealous of the progress he’s making with the girls no one else could successfully tutor. That brings us back to Takemoto, who cannot for the life of her memorize the meanings of any English words. She’s got swimming on the brain, at all times.

After hours of futile family restaurant studying, Yuiga gets creative: if she wants to swim, he’ll let her. With Furuhashi and Ogata’s help, he designs a studying method uniquely suited to Takemoto’s stengths, diving underwater to grab the correct meaning of 50 out of 50 English words, all because she can truly focus when she’s in the water. Perhaps she is a mermaid who one day grew legs…

Takemoto decides to thank Yuiga properly by presenting him with a gift in a bag that’s of a very similar color to Tiffany & Co., out of gratitude both for his tutoring and all the other assistance he’s rendered over the years, and as a token of her unspoken feelings for him. I personally maintain they’d make a good couple, but she’s gotta speak up and he’s gotta be made aware!

There’s also the little matter of her giving him the wrong Tiffany-colored bag, so instead of a new pencil case, he got her used swimsuit, something for which he can only scratch his head and ask why; while at home with his intended gift, her plan totally undermined, all Takemoto can do is writhe furiously on the bed, asking for someone to please kill her now…

Takemoto is a welcome addition to the cast. I have a soft spot for childhood friend-characters, especially energetic athletic types (regardless of their success in winning the guy/girl) and her feelings for him are both clear and justified, even if her refusal to ever act on them is frustrating. The easy, caring way Yuiga interacts with them makes it easy to understand why both she and others are fond of the guy. Takemoto is also, frankly, freaking adorable.

I also appreciated that the show kept Furuhashi out of Yuiga’s home study session in order to give the other two girls’ interactions room to breathe; no doubt she’ll get more attention, and Ogata or Takemoto less, in a future episode. And then there’s still two more girls yet to get their official intros, including the pink-haired teacher. Along with One Punch Man 2 and Carole & Tuesday, I think I’ve got my Top 3 Spring shows locked in!

BokuBen – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Forget the Frustration

BokuBen or We Never Learn pulls off a fine trick; one so admirable knowing the potential underlying cynicism for its formula doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the show. First, it draws you in with its catchy, vibrant OP, two girls as lovably drawn and animated as Trigger or Shaft fare, and brings three consummate-professional seiyuu in Shiraishi Haruka (wonderful as Asirpa in Golden Kamuy), Tomita Miyu (excellent as Abyss’ Riku) and Osaka Ryouta (from everything) to the party.

Then, once you’re at that party, you learn that the beauty is more than skin deep, and that the three main characters presented so far are richly detailed and both their dreams and motivations are clearly and strongly defined. More to the point, all three are extremely likable rootable characters, so let’s meet ’em!

Osaka’s Yuiga Nariyuki is your standard hard-working kid with a good heart. We learn his family is poor, his father deceased, and later, that he’s the man of a dilapidated house, desperate to help hold both it and the family within it together. And there’s your motivation for why he’d accept almost any condition in exchange for getting a free ride at the college affiliated with his high school.

That condition involves him having to tutor the two school geniuses, Furuhashi Fumino (Shiraishi), the “Sleeping Beauty of the Literary Forest”, and Ogata Rizu (Tomita), the “Thumbelina Supercomputer.” Those amazing nicknames are incredibly accurate in describing the two girls’ strengths, but fall far short of describing the full measure of their respective characters.

That is because Furuhashi, a genius in liberal arts, wants to go to college for science, while Rizu, a genius in science, wants to go to college for liberal arts. The scenario almost too deliciously perfect, right down to their hair and eye color resembling Eva’s Rei and Asuka.

Yuiga quickly learns that Furuhashi is as hopeless at math as Rizu is hopeless at literature, and that this will be no easy task. But the reward will be getting into college without burdening his family, which makes it worth the challenge.

At first, his frustration with their ineptitude in the fields they wish to pursue, and suggestion that they simply tutor one another, lead the girls to suspect that he’ll abandon them just like all the (numerous!) previous tutors. I mean, he’s saying the same thing they all did: stick with what you know, you’re both geniuses in that! Let your talent take you as far as it can! USE YOUR GIFTS.

But like any gift someone didn’t specifically ask for (nor had the opportunity to do so) if it’s not something they wanted, they should be free to pursue something they do.

The polite, apologetic, self-berating Furuhashi and fiery, direct, and suspicious Rizu may differ in many ways but one way in which they do not is in their steadfast determination not to take the paths of least resistance, nor let a consensus of outside voices they had no control over determine what they should be.

In their haste to take their leave of yet another tutor who doesn’t understand where they’re coming from, the girls leave their practice books behind with Yuiga, and when he finds them packed with notes proving how hard the two of them worked to understand, Yuiga proceeds to understand where they’re coming from, because it’s a place he’s been to too.

Yuiga used to suck in school, and remembered the pain and frustration of simply not understanding something, not matter how hard he tried. He’s able to empathize with them not possibly being happy if they gave up on what they wanted to do simply because what they could do was easy.

So he supplies them with advisory notes and suggests they study in the library together. I loved how he got so into his explanation of how he got them and relates to them, it sounded at first to both of them that he was confessing his love for them at the same time! Thankfully, he’s able to quickly diffuse that misunderstanding and they head to the library.

There, Yuiga learns another layer of difficulty beyond the practical matter of getting these two into the colleges of their choice—the fact that he’s a high school guy, and they’re both insanely cute high school girls. Getting his VIP recommendation and free ride doesn’t just mean making sure they succeed; he has to continue keeping his grades up.

But it’s hard to focus when, for instance, Furuhashi nods off and rests her head on his shoulder, during which he gets a whiff of her hair, or when Rizu draws in so close to show him a problem that her chest brushes against his side. Yuiga’s romantic history isn’t mentioned here (it’s likely he’s devoted all his time to studying and improving his grades), but it’s clear both of those events were probably firsts for him.

Meanwhile, Fusuhashi and Rizu remain charmingly unaware of the effect they’re inadvertently having on Yuiga. I appreciate this distinction: they’re not intentionally flirting with him, nor are they in conscious competition for him. This is all in Yuiga’s head right now. They’re both there to study. So when he starts blushing and breathing heavily, they assume he’s not feeling well due to a fever.

Yuiga’s interactions with Furuhashi and Rizu post-“confession” plumb satisfying new depths in both their character stories, both for Yuiga and me. Those new layers further explain why Furuhashi and Rizu are pursuing fields opposite their strengths, and it isn’t just for the sheer challenge.

Furuhashi wants to pursue a career in astronomy because she loves the stars and wants to have a closer connection to them, especially as one of them might be her late mother’s star. Meanwhile, Rizu’s family owns an udon restaurant, but while on break between deliveries she is playing a card game for 2-10 players…by herself. Yuiga plays her learns she sucks at it, but she still loves board and card games, and wants a career that will help her understand more about the human emotions that blend with the math to make those games special.

In both cases, Yuiga promises both he’ll support them, and again, their conversations take a turn that could be construed as romantic, only this time he isn’t being supportive to them both at the same time, like his “confession,” so each girl has more cover to express their gratitude for his continued support.

The episode closes by putting faces on the family Yuiga wants to protect: his mother, two younger sisters, and younger brother. But he’s no mercenary in this effort; and his family is no longer the one and only reason. He seems genuinely invested in working to help secure Furuhashi and Rizu’s happiness, as someone whose late father urged him to value failure, and the pain and frustration that result form it, as among the most important teachers in life.

When he’s approached by both Furuhashi and Rizu at school in front of his friends, and both of them whisper in his ear not to mention to anyone what they talked about last night, it creates a third layer to Yuiga’s increasingly complicated mission: the social aspect outside the trio’s dynamic. This is high school; rumors will spread and misconceptions will develop. How will the three of them deal? Not to mention there’s a third girl on the horizon: one who may be a genius in swimming.

I’m over 1200 words here, so I should wrap this sucker up—BokuBen had a very strong start, as I’m invested in everyone I’ve met so far. It’s a great-looking show with great-sounding seiyuu and has a very promising premise. If it can maintain the quality of its premiere, I’ll have no problem tuning in.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 05

Last week Rani painted a morose picture: there are only a few thousand humans still alive on Earth, a dire scenario the species hasn’t seen since the last ice age. Combined with the dreadful state of SE.RA.PH, mankind is staring at the edge of oblivion.

It’s a much bigger crisis than I had comprehended at the time (due partially to spotty translation); almost too big a crisis for our MC, who still isn’t sure how many times he’s died and been brought back (though it’s been a lot). All I know is, he may be humanity’s last hope.

It certainly isn’t Dan Blackmore, a knight who fought and was defeated by Hakuno 999 years ago. He lost not due to lack of willpower or clarity of duty, but simply because he had more regrets and thus less resolve, than his opponent.

But now that Dan’s back, he’s not going to let anything get in the way of his winning—in lieu of the Holy Grail or ascending, continued victories are their own reward, and has been for nearly a millennium.

Once Hakuno is over the initial shock of learning what year it really is and how long things have been left to rot, he, Saber and Rani talk Dan, Archer, and strategy.

First, since he was already defeated and died, Dan is no longer a true Master (why Hakuno, who has also died a lot, is a true Master is a head-scratcher for your humble author). As for his servant, Archer’s true name is Robin Hood, an expert in guerrilla warfare, who has two noble phantasms but cannot use both simultaneously.

One allows him to attack undetected; the other, Yew Bow, is more of a coup-de-grace, and is only effective after the first phantasm has been used to shoot the target with a poison arrow. The Yew Bow detonates the poison in the target’s blood, killing them from the inside out.

For the battle, Saber takes on Robin by herself, dodging a number of invisible arrows until one finally gets her, thus exposing her to the poison Robin will use to blow her up. But her part of the plan is simply to keep Robin busy, partly by asking why he still serves a man who is no longer a Master, to which his reply is both concise and logical: Would you tell a knight who’s been brought back to life and fought 999 years to simply give it up?

Meanwhile Hakuno learns more from Rani (in her awesome futuristic motorcycle and sidecar) about Moon Cell’s quandary: while it can manage the “exterior” of humans, it could not understand their “core”—their reactions and emotions—even when it invited them to SE.RA.PH. for observation. So it simply discards those emotions to the bottom floor.

By that same token, there is no physical or observable “world of the dead” on Earth, but SE.RA.PH. made it quantifiable, such that the hatred (and presumably other emotions) of the dead still roam around as “ghosts,” which is exactly what happened to Dan Blackmore. One could also say he respawned.

Hakuno and Rani’s chat is cut short by their arrival at the clock tower, but as soon as they emerge from the forest, Rani is shot and she and Hakuno knocked off the bike. Hakuno finds cover, but Rani is out in the open, obviously bate to take.

Many “ghosts” start to surround Rani, urging Hakuno to forget about her and continue up the tower to defeat Blackmore, but he rejects their certainty and chooses to save her instead, donning the Death Face to gain exceptional speed that avoids the gunshots. Rani is unable to move, but still able to fight.

Deeper in the forest, Robin deems the time is right to use Yew Bow on Saber, only to have it fail spectacularly. Saber, you see, picked up on the fact the detonator targets the impurities—the poison—in the target’s blood. Her answer to that is to simply bleed out, and once Robin detonates it, divert the blood-blast with her sword.

It works like a charm, and Robin isn’t ready when she charges him and runs him through. How can she survive bleeding out? Well, aside from being Saber and thus very tough, she apparently has up to three extra lives provided her body remains intact. Losing her blood now and again isn’t that big a deal…especially if it helps secure a path to victory for her Master.

That leaves Dan on his own against Hakuno, who does not fall for the trap of Dan being at the top of the clock tower just because the bells ring every time he takes a shot. Dan is in fact in the tower of the citadel, firing at the bells, while the clock tower is lined with explosives.

No matter; once atop the clock tower, Hakuno, in Death Face mode, shoots Dan before he can shoot him, and Dan dies with a distinct sense of relief he can finally be with his wife again. Upon his death, the elevator appears immediately, leaving Hakuno no time to get Rani.

But as Saber says, Rani never intended to ascend at all. She was always content to tend to the dead and watch one last “star” ascend, which Hakuno and Saber do thanks to her assistance. 50 years of “rebellion” against Blackmore were enough.

Oh, and Rin’s still hanging out on the elevator as they start their ascent to the third stratum—though Hakuno and Saber aren’t sure why.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 04

As they ascend to the next level, Hakuno ponders Rider’s dying question to him: Why does he want to ascend? All he can come up with is hatred, and a desire to simply ascent, but Saber, once again demonstrating her lack of modesty, does not consider his motivations relevant; he’ll surely find what he desires as they continue to “climb the ladder”, so to speak; she’ll help.

When they arrive, the setting is a lot simpler than the complex, futuristic city: a vast forest with mountains on the horizon, and a few buildings in a clearing. In one of those buildings, someone has been waiting for them; a aging Master who also desires to ascend—and believes defeating another Master will do the trick.

To that end, he fires shots with his sniper rifle from his perch in the clock tower, and Saber and Hakuno have to flee into the forest.

There, Hakuno makes sure to thank Saber for keeping him alive to that point, and Saber tells him to essentially not forget to stop and smell the roses—to enjoy what is beautiful, whether it’s the forest, some flowers, or her own purty face.

That face is threatened once more, not by the Master, but by his Servant, Archer, who drops a poison cloud on Saber and Hakuno and stays invisible, shooting invisible arrows, one of which pierces Saber’s shoulder.

Hakuno must expend a command seal so Saber can raze all of the forest around them with fire (she IS Nero after all, isn’t she), but that’s just what Archer wants: a clear shot.

Archer’s arrows don’t find their target, however, because they’re destroyed by a surprise ally to Saber and Hakuno, the Servant-less Master Rani VIII. She takes them to her home, where she explains she is the last “rebel” Master fighting against the sniper, and has been waiting for someone like Hakuno to come along, with a Servant, to arrive on this level.

She concedes that for all of its inherent stagnation, SERAPH may well be an “ideal heaven”, but that’s irrelevant, because it’s on the brink of destruction. When Hakuno sleeps, he dreams of the man in the white coat he met lower down, making him to wonder if he’s trying to ascend to a place he had already descended from.

After all, not only does his thus-far-inexplicable drive to ascend simply “feels like the right thing to do”, but he’s completely clueless about the actual year; he thinks it’s still the 21st Century, but Rani informs him it’s actually 3020. Worse, the humans living in SERAPH will soon be all that’s left of their race; if SERAPH goes, humans go extinct.

It would seem Rani has far grander designs for Hakuno than he himself could ever have envisioned—that will determine not just the course of humanity, but its very existence in the universe. Perhaps, then, Hakuno finally has a reason to ascend…other than hatred.

I was a little confused about what happened to Rin after seeing her in the bath with Saber. It seemed a bit convenient they’d be shorthanded when Archer attacked them. I guess she had other matters to attend to this week?

Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 13

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Asterisk doesn’t waste too much time getting back into the swing of things: Ayato and Julis’ next win puts them in the quarterfinals. Of course, now Ayato’s secret isn’t a secret anymore; both the physical strain of his trump card and its time limit are common knowledge among the rival schools, including Jie Long, the one that fields their latest pair of opponents, Luo and Song.

Jie Long’s pint-sized prez is excited about Ayato despite learning his potential weaknesses, to the point she warns her two students, the arrogant, smirking Li twins, that Luo and Song may not make it to the next round.

For what it’s worth, Luo and Song are neither arrogant nor smirking, but honorable fighters who lament before the match begins that they can’t fight Ayato at 100%.

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The primary draw of this show (unlike RKC, which had a far better central romance) is the matches, and this latest one doesn’t disappoint, with Julis cleveing the stage in half to split Luo and Song apart so they can’t collaborate on attacks or gang up on Ayato.

It’s still a tough fight, however, so Julis executes stage two of her strategy (the firewall was stage one): suddenly switching places with Ayato without warning, throwing the opponents timing off.

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Ayato and Julis strike fast and defeat Song and Luo, who are gracious in defeat but are still compelled to warn them later that the same tricks won’t work on the Li twins, Shenyun and Shenhua.

Song and Luo respect that Ayato and Julis treat their opponents as equals, but the Li twinslook down on everyone and pull out all the dirty tricks they can to stay a step ahead. It’s no surprise that Luo and Song are from the school of wood—rigid and unbending—while the Li twins are from the school of water—flexible and slippery.

Ayato and Julis’ next match will be one of only three matches left to decide the winner. With so many episodes, I, like Julis, wonder what Ayato wants to get out of this, though she appreciates him fighting for her. His sister, for instance, is someone who’s been on the sidelines/in the shadows all this time, and is likely not really dead, so I would think she’ll come into play at some point this season.

As for the introduction of Flora…I wasn’t aware the show was starved for another cute moe character, but…sigh…here we are. That being said, like the battle and Ayato and Julis’ increasingly mature relationship, the Rasmus Faber soundtrack—including the pumping new OP and ED—continues to impress.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 12 (Fin)

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AW eschews its OP to allow for some final moments between the Urzaiz sisters and the pair of Ayato and Julis before the big battle, and they were appreciated. This is the final episode for some time, so rushing right into the battle would have seemed too rote. No, this is more than a good-guys/bad-guys battle. Both sides have honorable reasons to fight, and all four are characters I’ve come to like.

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But once those moments are over, AW gets right down to business with a long and epic battle packed with powerful moves and counter-moves. And yet it’s a very personal fight, between pairs of people who could otherwise be friends but for the fact they’re in the way of each others’ goals. I particularly liked Irene shooting down Ayato wondering out loud if she’s “doing this the right way”, i.e. draining her sister dry to keep up.

Ayato and Julis broke bread with these two. They heard the sisters’ story, so Ayato knows why Irene is doing this, and why Priscilla is letting her, and she doesn’t want to hear him questioning her now. This is for all the marbles; no time for half-measures.

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But it becomes clear that Irene’s earnest and pure desire to protect her sister at all costs is being exploited by her Ogre Lux Gravi-sheath, and as the battle progresses it transforms her more and more into an overpowered demon. And yet, a measure of the real Irene remains, trying to hold back so she doesn’t harm the one person she never wants harm to come to. She just needs a little help.

She gets it as the battle comes to a furious climax, with Ayato pulling out all the stops with his dwindling time with Ser Veresta. He wrests Gravi-sheath from the berserk Irene and shatters it, winning the battle. Before being defeated, Irene grasped at the light of his powering up, as if yearning for a source of power less corrupting than the sheath. Well, she won’t have to worry about that now!

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It’s a brilliant victory for Ayato, but it incurs a cost as well. He may not have to suck his sisters’ blood, but the seal his own sister placed on him is activated before he’s able to leave the arena. The cameras capture what happens when he fights for more than five minutes, and all the rival schools lick their chops at the opportunity to fight him. Even knowing this vulnerability, they realize it still won’t be an easy fight…but they’re glad for the opportunity for a proper challenge…and those challenges will come next season.

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By the time Priscilla wakes up, Irene is totally over losing the sheath—shit happens, right? No point crying over spilled milk (or shatted Ogre Luxes). Pris is just glad the weapon that made her sister scary is gone, and Dirk content not to reprimand Irene, though he won’t be paying her debt down any since she lost. That doesn’t matter to Priscilla: from now on, she’s not just going to hang back while her sister protects her; she’s going to become stronger and fight by her side. I hope we get to see that next season, too.

As for Ayato and Julis, when Ayato, barely able to move, still insists he’ll keep his promise to have her back, Julis takes his face in her hands and tells him she’ll have his back too. Like the Urzaiz sisters, the two of them are stronger when both are pulling their weight, and I have no doubt in Julis’ capability to pull hard. Unfortunately their would-be kiss is interrupted when Saya, Kirin, and Claudia enter, but hey, when you have a harem, you gotta make sure the doors are locked!

Finally, in the post-credits teaser (and the show wisely stuck to its “Waiting for the Rain” ED, the best of the Fall), a man picks up Haruka’s bloodied glasses, saying she’s made him fall behind on his plans so far, but now…IT’S TIME. For what, we’ll just have to tune in next season and find out. If it’s lifting the seal she placed on Ayato, well, Ayato may be in for more suffering. He’s never had more people gunning for him, but he’s also never had more people who have his back.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 11

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This week is bookended by scenes between Ayato and the girl in his “harem” (at least the harem expressed in the ED) that he perhaps pays the least attention to and has the least interactions with. Claudia seems to savor her brief moments with him, even as they’re interrupted by the other girls. When he has to go to find a lost Saya (who really should have satnav on her phone), he promises to atone for skipping out on Claudia.

But for the second straight week, on his intended path to Saya and Kirin, he encounters the Urzaiz sisters. This time, Priscilla is on the run from some thugs (of course) and Ayato takes her to a rooftop. He saves her so quickly, she forgets to call off her sister, whom she told she was being attacked, and so comes in ready to rumble with whoever happens to be beside Pris.

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Again, however, Priscilla is able to calm Irene, and offers Ayato an invitation to dinner as thanks for his help and for his trouble. Irene angrily complains to the stodgy Le Wolfe’s Dirk Whasisname, who later makes sure via tarot-reading from his aide Corona that the Urzaizs will indeed prevail in the coming battle.

Julis very successfully includes herself in Pris’ invitation, but that turns out to be no problem at all, since neither Pris or Irene are interested in seducing her Ayato, nor are they using the dinner as a ploy to somehow gain intel on their coming matchup. It’s just…a dinner party. And that’s fine!

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Irene even wears a shirt for the occasion! She doesn’t get up, though, and welcomes her guests with a nonchalant “yo”, drawing the ire of her far more mannerly sister. The ice is broken when the food arrives, as Irene loves food, loves Pris, and genuinely appreciates how good a cook her sister is.

Dinner conversation takes a darkish turn when Irene mentions the casino, her primary source of revenue to keep their fam of two afloat. Ayato assumes Festa winnings would be enough, but Dirk garnishes those earnings from her, slowly repaying a huge debt she incurred from him in a time of dire need.

Beholden both to a callous loan shark willing to squeeze her for everything she’s worth, and an Ogre Lux, Gravi-sheath, that transforms her into something even Priscilla fears, if she’s honest, this episode did a nice efficient job of humanizing Ayato and Julis’ next opponents.

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Irene isn’t coy about the mission Dirk has given her, which isn’t to win the Phoenix Festa, but simply to destroy Ayato. He wants to do this sooner rather than later, since he once knew someone else who wielded Ser Veresta. Since the rest of his info on his big sister came from Claudia, I imagine that’s why he wished to meet with her so late at night.

But because he comes on such short notice, Claudia nods off while waiting for him, and her dreams are how her Ogre Lux Pandora take hold of her: she’s experienced death 1,200 times since taking up the weapon, and always a different way. I knew Ayato neglected her, but to know she also suffers this much due to her Ogre Lux – she has even more of my sympathy. Being voiced by Touyama Nao helps, too.

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Claudia only tells Ayato all this because he agrees to be part of her team in the upcoming Gryps Festa. She also gets into how Ogre Luxs, like people, cover the full spectrum of personality traits good to bad.  And one of the worst is Gravi-sheath, which turns Irene into a vicious vampire.

Things seem to be getting worse for her, but what can Irene do? She needs to repay Dirk, and doesn’t believe she can do it without her Lux, even with Pris by her side. In a very nice parting montage that transitions into the ED (which I never ever tire of; it’s so beautiful) we see what’s at stake, from Claudia to Julis and a worried Priscilla to an Irene possessed. Will she have to destroy Ayato, or will another way emerge?

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 04

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Note: Preston and I have been watching both TG35 and Subete ga F, but we’ve decided to swap reviewing duties of those two shows. So going forward I’m your TG35 reviewer, while Preston will be handling the SgF.

As Preston observed last week, this show is proving very swift and decisive with its character orientation arcs. Ootori was essentially one of the gang last week after a tense gestation, and by this episode’s end, Mari has also become an official member of the 35th.

It’s great when Mari notes how famously Saionji and Suginami get along, Takeru reveals that the two used to be as much at each others throats as Mari and Ootori, and he looks forward to the two settling down, which he’s sure they’ll do in time. Takeru dismisses any notion of abandoning Mari should he, say, find out one day she’s an evil murderer. Instead, he promises to help her.

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Indeed, Ootori learns about Mari’s past and relays it to Takeru, but he goes into mock battle with her all the same, which is interrupted by the necromancer Haunted bursting out of one of their opposing players; a grim, demented entrance if ever there was one. He’s there for Mari, but Takeru won’t let him have her.

Takeru is surprised to find Haunted has an armored suit and legendary sword able to pierce Lapis, and ends up bloodied very early in the fight. But as he fights, Ootori is having words with her adoptive father the director about the circumstances of the crime scene where Mari was arrested. The magic used to kill people wasn’t hers.

This means, witch or not, the director had Mari arrested on false charges. In exchange for overlooking such a crime, Mari makes a certain demand of the director that proves crucial in the battle with Haunted.

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Now we know why Takeru had zero problem heading into battle with Mari, nor did he seem the slightest bit troubled by the news Ootori gave him: she’s innocent. When Haunted restores Mari’s memory, she remembers being surrounded by a lot of death—including that of her family at an orphanage—and blaming herself both for being such a valuable resource to Valhalla, and for not being able to save them.

With all her terrible memories back, Mari must feel like going with Haunted is what she deserves, and it’s what she’s prepared to do in order to stop others from dying because of her. But Takeru will have none of it. As he promised Ootori, if need be, he’ll carry half her burden, but he won’t leave her side or let Valhalla swallow her back up.

Haunted may be a swordsman, but he’s not a Kusaragi, and Takeru cycles through Lapis’ many weapon forms and effectively drives him back.

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Haunted is a tough customer, however, and it’s everything Takeru can do to stay alive in their duel. Mari decides to cast a spell to help Takeru out, even if it means the collar around her neck detonating. But it doesn’t, because Ootori had the director shut it off just in time. Ootori then tells Mari to prove to her that magic can be used for things other than death and suffering. Now’s the chance to change my mind about you.

Naturally, both Mari and Ootori insist they’re not doing this for the other, but in truth, they’ve already warmed to each other and are working as one. Ootori saved Mari so Mari can save Takeru. Ootori provides cover fire so Mari can cast her spell. Suginami wakes Saionji up by riddling her with insults from when they were frenemies, and then Saionji covers Ootori with her sniper rifle.

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Finally, rather than fire her magical attack at Haunted, she sends it to Takeru, and it’s absorbed by a grateful Lapis, whose pride has been impugned by Haunted’s “lost-type” Dainsleif’s trash talk. The attack is enough to push Haunted back and disperse his armor, and he retreats with a smile on his face, intrigued that he has a challenging new foe keeping him from Mari.

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The magical barrier falls, Takeru passes out, goes to hospital, and wakes up with Lapis by his side eating apples (her low-key presence continues to be a nice contrast to the powerful personalities of the other girls). There’s one more “uh-oh” moment this week when Ootori tells Takeru of bad news, but it’s just bad news for her—Mari has officially enrolled at AntiMagic Academy—but it isn’t really such bad news for Ootori either.

In fact, it was Ootori who used her leverage against the director to negotiate Mari’s present status as comrade. I can understand her doing this to stay in Takeru’s good graces, so to speak, but it’s just as much about Ootori being a champion of justice, as well as having her mind about witches changed, if only a little, by Mari, when it mattered most.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 03

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I’ll say this for TG35—it isn’t wasting any time developing its characters. While Ootori was the reluctant outsider last week, that roles passes to Nikaido Mari, AntiMagic Academy’s very first witch Inquisitor-in-Training. What the other 35s don’t know is that she was picked up last week on suspicion of murder, but had a powerful (but not ironclad) amnesia spell placed on her.

Apparently she’s dangerous enough to held naked chained by her ankle in solitary confinement, but is given back her regular clothes, which is odd, because the director wants her to blend into the school. The best way to do that would be to give her a green Taimadou uni, but alas.

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Like Ootori, Mari wants to be left alone, and Suginami and Saionji are fine with doing just that, but Ootori can’t help but get into verbal spats with her. Not only does Mari represent everything Ootori hates—witches and magic—but she’s also competition for Takeru’s attention. The two snipe at each other and square off both in the classroom and P.E., to essentially a stalemate, periodically swapping smug victory and angry defeats, all of it very petty.

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When Takeru tries to get between them, the two girls reflexively punch him, something Ootori regrets immediately and Mari regrets…a little later. In a very effective and efficient scene, Takeru ably disarms Mari: he doesn’t hate witches or magic, and he’s willing to give her a shot, just like he gave Ootori.

Takeru also shows genuine interest in her motivations for enrolling, and she eventually opens up: she’s enthusiastic about changing peoples’ hearts and minds about witches and magic. By the end of their exchange, they’re on first-name terms—if only because Mari thinks “Kusanagi” is lame and Takeru thinks “Nikaidou” is awkward to pronounce.

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The next day Mari is in the Platoon’s HQ, sparring with Ootori. Once she knows Ootori likes Takeru, she wastes no time using their first-name basis (and some close contact) to enrage her even further. To her credit, Ootori doesn’t let it come to blows; in fact she barely tries to conceal the fact Takeru’s promise to “share half her burden” is something she values very much.

At the same time, Mari looks a little nervous clinging to Takeru, like she’s getting swept up in the competition with Ootori in spite of herself. Not surprisingly, the other platoon members, including Lapis, fade into the background this whole episode, which I didn’t mind.

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A little more incredulous is the fact that Mari has nowhere else to stay but Takeru’s dingy, creepy apartment. Naturally, the protective Ootori won’t let the two spend time in Takeru’s place alone (she figures a “closet perv” like Takeru would be all too easily wooed even by Mari’s “meager charms”), so she tags along, despite Takeru’s building freaking her out.

That’s when we end up with the most ridiculous scene of the episode, in which Takeru walks in on a totally naked (and “insecure”) Mari drying her hair, just when Ootori runs out of the bathroom also totally naked, scared by some kind of ghost. The two naked girls end up on top of Takeru, who meekly protests none of this is his fault, leading to an off-camera double slap (though no synchronized scream).

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The next day the 35th begins their first round of a mock battle tournament, and things start to go pear-shaped pretty fast, until Mari decides she will assist them after all and serves as a decoy so Takeru, Ootori, and Saionji can clean up and advance (Suginami doesn’t participate).

It’s the episode’s one concession to action (unlike last week which was mostly action), and it’s pretty inconsequential. But the lesson to take away is that with Ootori, Mari, and Lapis, the 35th is climbing towards respectability…or at least less ridicule.

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When Ootori acknowledges Mari’s contribution in her roundabout double-negative-laced way, we see that despite, or even perhaps partially due to their intense co-antagonism, Mari and Ootori are on their way to gelling with the 35th. That’s of course, until Ootori delivers her report to the director, finds him absent, and picks up a document describing Mari as an ancient witch under suspicion of murder, thus confirming all of her earlier suspicions about the witch, without knowing the whole picture about her amnesia.

The thing is, even Mari isn’t sure who she is. She gets a flash of her true past after making nice with Takeru, and before going to sleep at his place, warns him she may not be someone he should be trusting in. I don’t know whether her amnesia spell is permanent, but even if it is, Ootori can’t unsee what she saw, Mari may not have the means to fully explain herself, and Takeru will continue to be in the middle, trying to keep the peace.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 02

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TG35 tables its fanservice and harem elements this week, instead focusing on the more serious matter of Kusanagi continuing his quest to make Ootori accept him as a captain and a comrade, a decision I felt made for a better episode than the first.

When Ootori affirms her unwillingness to allow being lumped in with the Small Fry Platoon, Suginami reveals her nickname of “calamity” in Inquisition, where she was a revenge-driven loose cannon – accusations she won’t deny.

Eager to make his unit better and not willing to sit back and let Ootori continue to fight alone, he keeps trying to convince her, but his efforts are interrupted by the summoning of a hero or “einhenjar” tasked with assaulting the academy. In confronting and battling that einhenjar, Kusanagi eventually backs into the very means to help shoulder Ootori’s burdens by contracting with a “relic eater”, Lapis Lazuli.

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But first, Ootori runs off and tries to take on the einhenjar (Arthur Pendragon, armed with a railgun Excalibur) all by herself, questioning what good she is if she can’t handle such a “puny threat” on her own.

When conventional attacks fail, she summons her own relic hunter, Vlad, in the form of two pistols, but she only has a provisional contract with him, and Vlad’s need to take her blood to function effectively weakens her more.

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Finally, the director de-summons Vlad, leaving Ootori defenseless against Pendragon. But that action reveals the director’s intention: to give Kusanagi the opportunity to contract with Lapis, a pairing he’s been looking forward to.

Kusanagi comes to Ootori’s aid, backed up by Saionji and Suginami, but his attacks also fail. At the same time, Ootori realizes it was Kusanagi she beat back in the past; they didn’t meet for the first time last week. I wonder if there’s anything else to that past connection.

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Pendragon then does to Kusanagi what he did to Ootori, and he ends up bleeding out on the ground—until Lapis suddenly appears through the dust cloud (a nice visual), transports him to a different dimension, and takes him through the contracting ceremony, consisting of questions such as “would you abandon what is precious to you” (hell no) and “would you abandon your humanity” (sure) to achieve his goals.

I liked the prompt, no-nonsense introduction of Lapis, as well as her occasional moments of playfulness (bum-ba-da-bum!) amidst her usual ethereal stoicism. She also reminded me of Knight Rider a bit; a sentient piece of technology-as-companion. Also notable: no boob-grabbing or nudity silliness with Lapis, and her outfit, while cool-looking, is also pretty modest. Refreshing!

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There’s the sense Kusanagi isn’t quite sure what’s going on, but Lapis helpfully informs him the contract is complete and she is now his. And what she is is an unbreakable sword and suit of armor which are just the two things someone with his sword skills needs to not only fight witches effectively, but also in order to convince Ootori he can be relied upon, despite his normally unreliable aura.

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With Pendragon easily dispatched,  Kusanagi joins Ootori against a tree trunk, saying he won’t presume to lecture her about revenge, but earnestly asks her to at least let him share half of her burden, as her comrade and her friend.

Ootori, having been saved from certain death, is hardly in a position to protest further, and in any event, once Kusanagi passes out on her lap, she privately confesses to not really minding the feeling of having someone wanting to, and being allowed, to share her burden. If her fight with Pendragon taught her anything, it’s that she won’t get far alone.

As for the sixth main character, the witch Nikaidou Mari, she seems to be in reluctant cahoots with the murderous necromancer who summoned Pendragon, but passes out before Inquisition arrests her. I imagine she’s on a course that’ll eventually lead her to Kusanagi and the 35th.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 01 (First Impressions)

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This is now the third “magic academy” anime we’ve come across this Fall. But unlike Zane’s two shows Rakudai and Asterisk, TG35 focuses less on school and more on the occupation they’re all training for: which amounts to witch-hunting and preventing the smuggling of magical items. It’s the most regimental, but also the most like a typical school anime in that the titular platoon is like a club, complete with a clubroom HQ where they hang out.

Naturally, this is a club of misfits, mocked as the “Small Fry Platoon” at their academy for racking up zero points in a half a year of ops. Their captain is the katana-wielding Kusanagi Takeru, Saionji Usagi is the girly sniper, and Suginami Ikaruga is the tech whiz. The trio becomes a quartet when they are joined by Ootori Ouka, a prodigy who’d already advanced to the rank of inquisitor, but has been recently knocked back to the bottom for killing prisoners.

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Under orders from the academy director (and her guardian), Ootori makes nice as best she can, and Kusanagi plugs her into an ambitious (for the 35th) interdiction operation, which is played straight and seems to be going quite well right up until Kusanagi gives Saionji the order to start sniping…

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…Which she does…into the wrong window. Instantly, we see why this platoon has zero points. Kusanagi ends up on the wrong end of several mafia handguns, but is able to halve their bullets with his sword. Halving bullets is a great skill, but halving bullets alone can’t get you points; for that, the whole platoon needs to hum like a well-oiled machine. No slip-ups, no emotional outbursts.

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There’s plenty of both on the op, as Saionji crumbles under pressure and Kusanagi almost lets the gangsters’ barbs get the best of him, while Suginami, back at HQ, is a non-factor. They only manage to salvage the op when Ootori puts it on her shoulders, taking out all the gangsters and even quickly, efficiently disabling the culprit’s stolen Inquisition mecha. The show then manages to get Kusanagi to grab Ootori’s boob when he trips on a shell casing (groan).

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The next day, Ootori dresses down the rest of the platoon (verbally, not literally), putting particular emphasis on Kusanagi being a disgrace of a leader. When they try to win her over with a welcoming party, she scolds them for goofing off. Kusanagi catches sight of her bleeding arm wound and flags her down, making it clear that however she feels, he is her comrade, and her captain, and they’re going to make this work, somehow.

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She brushes him off, but lets him accompany her to an op she was going to take on herself. It’s a good thing she doesn’t. Sure, she has to save Kusanagi from a booby trap, but his bullet-slicing comes in handy against the henchmen. Moreover, when Ootori discovers the appalling handiwork of their targets—buckets of children’s body parts, perhaps for necromancy—she loses her cool and is about to kill everyone in sight.

Only Kusanagi, her CO and comrade in spite of her protests, restrains her. He posits that if she exacts revenge in this way, she’ll never be an Inquisitor again, and there will be more victims. Then she reveals the reason for wanting revenge: witches killed her family.

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Kusanagi doesn’t pretend to know what she’s feeling—he’s only trying to become an Inquisitor because the pay is good and his family needs money, not revenge—but he won’t stop trying to understand, nor will he stop trying to be her comrade and captain no matter what, because that’s what they are. The words move her as outside, a witch-looking girl with glowing purple eyes looks on, apparently observing all.

So yeah, definitely the darkest (out of the gate) and most serious of the three magical academy shows RABUJOI is reviewing, and the second with a more-than-decent opening episode. Despite the familiar character types and unimaginative fanservice, there’s a degree of promise here, as long as you enjoy misfit-rising stories, which I myself happen to. It executes capably on action, character design (no one’s boobs are too big), and music (the ED theme in particular is pretty sweet). We’ll see!

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