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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sansha Sanyou – 02

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Nicknames, olive branches, and sisters who are opposites – San-San’s second episode covers a lot, but at a gentle yet lively pace. We meet Serina, Hayama’s self-appointed rival, whom Hayama always makes a fool of with the sweetest demeanor possible.

Their verbal sparring is quite good, but so is the truce they reach when Hayama, who beneath the blackness within has a kind heart, offers a kitten to replace Serina’s last cat who died.

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After Yamagi insists Hayama and Futaba refer to his master as “Yoko-sama”, the nickname sticks, and it’s time for Hayama. When Futaba and Yoko learn her first name is Teru, I like how Futaba has a little fun with it before agreeing with Yoko it’s actually a nice name (and it is!).

The one who yells “Teru” in the hall is Teru’s own big sister Kou, who is part-angel, part-airhead, who likes putting strange combinations of health food ingredients into candy.

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The girls end up running into each other in the shopping district, where Yoko shows how serious she is about squeezing every penny (to their embarrassment) and Teru figures out that her (healthy, lucky) sister got on the health food kick in order to ensure her little sister—always sickly and unlucky as a small child—gets proper nourishment.

That doesn’t make her strange onigiri any easier to choke down, but Teru and Yoko choke it down nonetheless. For Yoko, wasting food is an insult and a sin; for Teru, she wants her sister to know she appreciates her care. San-San, like Shounen Maid, is pleasant low-stakes slice-of-life, but edges it out in cast chemistry and comedic pacing.

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Sansha Sanyou – 01 (First Impressions)

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Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back, relax, and watch a show about three colorful characters, voiced by three young, hungry seiyuu, coming together and shooting the breeze about nothing in particular…but mostly food!

That’s what we have in Sansha Sanyou, a minimal-stakes slice-of-life comedy with cute design and crisp, clean visuals that I’m seriously considering as my feel-good pick of the Spring

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As I said, Hayama (blonde class prez with a well-concealed mean streak), Futaba (energetic girl who loves to eat) and Yoko (purple-haired former rich girl struggling with making friends) are all voiced by relatively new, inexperienced actresses (Futaba’s seiyu is a pure rookie).

You can hear their infectiously fresh exuberance in their line delivery, much like Sore ga Seiyu. They also happen to have decent chemistry, comic timing, and range. They’re young, but they’re talented. Their efforts are backed up by appealingly above-average, colorful character design and naturally-flowing dialog that takes some interesting and unexpected turns.

I like how Hayama and Futaba, already good friends, decided to become friends with Yoko just because various random circumstances brought them together, and…well, why not? At the same time, Yoko is working hard to fit into “commoner society” now that she’s no longer super-rich.

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Yoko’s doting worry-wort semi-stalker of a former servant is a nice touch, as is her legitimate elation over receiving freebies, her worries over the cost of everything (hence her bread crusts being her main repast) and her earnest attempts at cooking for her friends, who enjoy the variable results without complaint, as good friends do.

Hayama also shows she’s got a hard edge behind her adorable demeanor, making a challenging classmate cry off-camera then shrugging it off. And while Futaba is the simplest of the three characters, she knows Hayama well and they bounce off each other’s eccentricities nicely.

There’s nothing overly complicated here, and that’s the point. The only question is whether I’ll have enough time to watch it, because it’s definitely good enough to keep.

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Re-Kan! – 13 (Fin)

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Yamada’s Brother’s Impression of how high school girls should dress in the Summer. Actual bust size may vary.

Re-Kan! wraps with a multi-stage slice-of-life episodes, starting with a trip to a theme park (or is it amusement park? I believe Amaburi pointed out the difference). The usual gang of Amami’s classmates come, and Yamada’s often inappropriate brother also tags along.

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Finally, Kana and Kyouko surprise Amami by inviting any and all of Amami’s ghosts friends who want to come. Amami also meets a new ghost, or rather an old one who helped her reunite with her dad when she got lost at the park as a small girl. In return, the ghost girl asked Amami to come back one day with her friends. Amami may have forgotten, but she still honored the request, and fun is had by all.

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From the theme park the gang has a sleepover at Amami’s place, complete with dinner, fireworks, Old Maid, and the guys sleeping out in the yard, per propriety. (The episode cuts to their classmate Yoshida several times, not participating in all these boilerplate summer activities so he can presumably draw a manga, unaware he’s missing out on some great material for said manga).

Narumi isn’t as scared of spending the night in Amami’s ghost-filled house as she thought, but she still can’t sleep. Turns out no one is asleep, but only resting their eyes, but before they can agree to pull an all-nighter, Narumi dozes off thanks to Amami holding her hand, the same way Amami’s father used to hold hers when she couldn’t sleep.

With that fun-filled Summer day, Re-Kan comes to a close, proving you can stay upbeat and heartfelt in a supernatural anime and still deliver creative, consistent laughs, both of the high- and low-brow variety.

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Re-Kan! – 12

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Hibiki is lost and anxious without her sixth sense, and it puts her in the nurse’s office, and eventually she stops coming to school altogether. When her living friends pay her a visit, her dad says she’s still processing the shock, and doesn’t want to face those she worried so much.

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Narumi doesn’t give a hoot what Hibiki wants, as long as its so selfless it hurts her. When she hears Hibiki isn’t eating, she whips up the same tamagoyaki he and Hibiki made for lil’ Yuuki way back when (nice continuity!); a recipe she knows to be Hibiki’s mom’s. And then she jams it down Hibiki’s throat.

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Enough’s enough; Narumi’s not going to let Hibiki stop living just because she can’t see or hear the dead anymore. She drags Hibiki out of her gloomy house to show her that the good she’s done stretches far beyond the dearly departed. I for one love how the other friends sit back and let Narumi do her thing; she’s always had the closest bond to Hibiki, tsundereness aside, and it’s great to see her in action.

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Narumi and Hibiki cross paths with numerous such people Hibiki helped connect with their departed loved ones, and had a positive impact on their lives, from the teachers who married and are now expecting, to the Kogal’s mother and the crabby old man. But those were just coincidences, Narumi really wanted to show what making those eggs for Yuuki did; he’s now a tough, happy little brother to his baby sister Kyouka, whose name means “echoing song” and shares a character with Hibiki’s.

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Narumi’s well-made point is that with or without her sixth sense, Hibiki has formed countless bonds with people in her life, including Narumi herself, who sticks with her even though the sixth sense frightened her. Just because she may have lost that sense doesn’t mean she should give up or despair, because she remains connected to those people whose lives she touched, as well as those she can no longer see or hear.

About that…after joining hands with Narumi as she drilled this point home, the clouds broke and all of Hibiki’s ghostly friends return to her side, along with her living friends, who are glad Narumi manages to get the job done.

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While the explanation for this is a bit cloudy, it would seem Hibiki’s mom returned to that spiritual realm where she watches over her daughter, and managed to revive the plant that either represents Hibiki’s life, sixth sense, or both. Meanwhile, all the ghosts completed their transition back to the living world. The whole thing, it would seem, was temporary.

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But there’s nothing temporary about the effect Hibiki’s selfless, caring, kind-hearted acts has on her own life: she was never alone as she feared; her connections with the living and dead endure. It’s a triumphant scene to see such a huge ground assembled around her, and while it might have been interesting to see her accept a life without her sixth sense, I really don’t mind that she got it back, either.

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Re-Kan! – 11

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The Moon Festival has come, and Hibiki is excited because her dad finally found her mother’s handmade decorations. She invites her friends to her home to decorate the tree, eat her special tamagoyaki, and write down their wishes, which she says have traditionally always come true in her family.

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That’s made clear when her wish to have friends is pretty much redundant. Her other wish, written on a very old piece of paper, because it’s an old wish, is one her living friends can’t help her with…but her ghost friends believe they can: meeting her mother. It’s a perfectly normal wish for any girl who has never met her mother, yet Hibiki thinks it’s selfish. Nevertheless, RCS and Kogal travel into the spiritual plane of her mind as she sleeps to try to make it happen.

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There, they find a spiritual Yuuhi, who has been watching over Hibiki her entire life through a mirror in a washitsu, and tending to a morning glory plant that is connected to Hibiki. The plant withers if Yuuhi leaves this room, which is why she’s never been able to fulfill her own wish to hold her daughter.

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RCS and Kogal, along with Ero-Neko and all of Hibiki’s other ghost friends, arrive at Yuuhi’s room to take over for her temporarily so that she can see Hibiki. The scene where the mother and daughter finally meet and embrace is the most moving and powerful yet in a show that’s been full of them. Such a simple wish, fulfilled at last. As Hibiki falls asleep in her mom’s lap, her dad peeks in too, happy the two women in his life were finally able to connect.

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But when Hibiki wakes up the next morning, not only is Yuuhi gone, but all the other ghosts in her life as well. It would seem that the morning glory plant represented her sixth sense, which Yuuhi had been tending all her life, and even the combined spiritual power of her friends wasn’t enough to make up for Yuuhi’s temporary absence, and the plant died.

While Hibiki has lost her sixth sense and thus all her ghostly friends, the fact remains she has a solid group of living friends. The preview for the penultimate episode hints that it will be their turn to help her get that sense back, if they can.

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Re-Kan! – 10

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Amami & Co. are now second-years, which makes them senpais for the first years, and they all seem to be looking forward to meeting new friends and mentoring juniors. The only problem is, Amami’s ghosts are scaring all the new girls away.

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Yamada first suggests Amami change her image, which leads to Amami impersonating her friends; her faux-tsundere impression of the True Tsundere Narumi being the funniest. But that doesn’t work, because it’s the ghosts scaring the newbies. Then Yamada suggests they change the image of the ghosts, which leads to some funny roleplay but does nothing to win the first-years over.

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A week passes, and Makoto invites Amami to sew plushies with her, resulting in Amami’s teddy bear and Makoto’s creepy zombie dude being possessed by spirits. The teddy is merely Roll Call Samurai, but they’re never sure about the zombie, only that he wants to act out the manga where his likeness originally came from; a manga made at school that Makoto fell in love with.

Thanks to Umbrella Girl, Makoto gets the “bridge to heaven” in the form of a rainbow. This act is only semi-serious, with the melodrama being stamped out by Kana, Kyouko, and Narumi, who find the whole thing very silly.

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With time running out, I was wondering if they were going to put any serious effort into getting the first-years to understand Amami’s situation. Amami may have plenty of friends in her class, both living and dead, but it’s the first-years’ loss to stay away from Amami.

That’s why it’s nice to see two of them who ran away before come to Amami seeking a photo, with ghosts in it of course. No plan of action was necessary, only time for them to understand there’s nothing to fear, and being Amami’s friend has a lot more benefits than drawbacks.

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Sword Art Online II – 14

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I was initially a little disappointed that yet again a Damsel in Distress would be rescued by the valiant Kirito, and then Kyouji proceeds to pin him down and inject him. In that moment, he’s the damsel now, and it’s Shino who saves him by knocking Kyouji out with her boombox. Sure, the lethal injection didn’t enter his body (Kyouji just happened to shoot into an electrode on Kirito’s chest which is lucky to say the least), but Shino still saved him, and herself, from the psychotic Kyouji.

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In the next act, Shino shows how much she’s grown since meeting Kirito and winning the BoB: when three bullies ask her for money, she politely refuses; when they pull a gun on her, she freaks out a little at the sight of it, but recollects herself. When the girl can’t pull the trigger, Shino disarms her, turns off the safety, and hits a can dead on from pretty far away, revealing it’s a BB gun. Then she puts the safety back on and hands it back to her terrified would-be tormentor.

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It’s an immensely satisfying exchange, escpecially when Shino’s out of sight and nearly collapses from anxiety afterwards. She didn’t suddenly become Rambo in the real world, but she’s taken the crucial first small step, and she’s going to keep taking more. It’s also pretty funny that Kirito picks her up from school in his motorcycle, which creates a small sensation from Shino’s classmates and likely raises her stature in the school a couple of ticks, simply because they don’t know that Kirito’s actually a bit of a dweeb.

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What follows is unapologetic exposition about the three people who together were Death Gun in and out of GGO, and how they planned to take out powerful players. Both Kyouji and his older brother were fueled by envy of those more powerful, while Kyouji himself dealt with the additional stress of being the heir to the family hospital after their dad gave up on his older brother. As their plan to kill elite players got more realistic, the virtual world became his reality.

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Here, Shino shows a different kind of strength when she insists on talking to Kyouji as soon as it’s possible. Even though he did terrible things to her, he was a broken person, and she doesn’t want him to keep on being broken. She herself once sought power in GGO, and risked having that world become more real than her own. Her apparent willingness to forgive Kyouji may be more than he deserves, but its her right to bestow that forgiveness if that’s what she wants.

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The final and most powerful act of the episode that redeems the somewhat boring Death Gun infodump is the sort of intervention-light that follows. At first it seems like Kirito is just going to introduce her to Asuna and Rika, but then he reveals (and apologizes for) his true intent: for her to meet the post office worker whose life she saved by killing that gunman. The worker comes with her adorable four-year-old daughter, whom she was pregnant with at the time of the incident, so Shino saved two lives in one.

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One can weigh the pros and cons of one’s actions all they want in one’s head, but having grateful beneficiaries of your actions staring right at you, thanking you profusely and giving you a drawing is another thing entirely. Because she saved lives, she has the right to forgive herself for taking one, as much she has a right to keep blaming herself. While certainly a delicate and highly personal situation, Kirito went through a very similar thing, and because he and Shino became friends, he did all he could to help her, as did Asuna and Rika; before they even met her.

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