Youkai Apartment no Yuuga na Nichijou – 01 (First Impressions)

Inaba Yuushi, newly graduated from middle school, intends to move out of his aunt, uncle, and cousin’s house, where he’s lived since his parents were killed in a car accident. When his high school’s dormitory burns down, he moves into a grand old apartment building that turns out to be populated by both humans and  youkai, which he didn’t know existed. Thus, Yuushi’s “first step toward independence” has landed him “somewhere incredible.”

That’s a pretty elegant premise, and the simplicity works in Youkai Apartment’s favor. The enjoyment of this premise is to be found in the details, like a seemingly normal, cute Kuga Akine who is actually an exorcist-in-training, or Yuushi’s favorite author being a resident, or his gradual realization that things in these apartments are something other than normal.

There’s a distinct Spirited Away atmosphere to the apartment, especially once the youkai start to appear, mill around, and interact with each other and Yuushi. But rather than not belonging in this nook of the “spirit world”, Yuushi and other humans (albeit weird ones) are welcome to coexist.

At the same time, while Chihiro learned what it meant to grow up, the message to Yuushi, who has always felt like a burden to his relatives, needs to relax and not worry about growing up too fast. He’s just a first-year in high school, after all!

The pleasant, easygoing, whimsical world of Youkai Apartment is, despite the presence of a few scarier youkai, a very warm and cozy place to spend time, and the slice-of-life nature of the narrative makes YA perfect Summer comfort food.

We’ll see how things go with Yuushi, his best friend/rival Hase Mizuki, Akine, and all the other characters human or otherwise we’re sure to meet in future episodes. This first one was an effective hook to draw us into its world.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 43

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When the stage is set at the end of this stage-setting episode, Rustal calls McGillis “just a child who can’t grow up,” referring to his obsession with shining monolithic superheroes who can bring righteous light to the world.

Rustal is probably right. McGillis can’t grow up. He’s been portrayed as the upstart kid at the adult’s table; an iron-blooded orphan who suffered just as much trauma as the kids of Tekkadan. Learning that Iznario Fareed was a pedophile who collected blonde boys paints Macky’s past even blacker.

To say he grew up far too fast ignores the fact that the ordeals he had to endure didn’t embue him with all the subtle qualities required for proper development. They only taught him the absolutes of weakness and strength; the only subtleties being in the various forms of power.

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With Mika assisting in capturing Gjallarhorn headquarters, McGillis believes he has finally achieved his goal of resurrecting the hero that propelled him, Agnika Kaieru, the tool that will cleanse a dirty system. He renames his rebuilt Bael Agnika Kaieru to commemorate his imminent victory.

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Vidar turns back into Gaelio Bauduin this week, after spending much time correctly ascertaining McGillis’ true goal. For the time they grew up as friends and brothers, Gaelio thought he already knew the McGillis behind “the mask” (not his physical one), until Gaelio betrayed him and Carta.

Now that he knows what McGillis wants, he’s going to stand in the way, not just for his Gjallarhorn, but his family. And he’s come in a Gundamn frame imbued with an faux-A-V system and Ein Dalton’s brain.

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The results are pretty impressive, as Gaelio is able to keep up with Mika and keep him guessing, even getting him to quietly admit “this dude is big trouble.” It certainly looks like McGillis has been outmaneuvered here, with Rustal’s dog able to fight on the same level as his dog, possibly necessitating his own personal involvement in the fight earlier than he’d like.

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But as it turns out, everything seems to be going the way McGillis had hoped, and he’s more than ready to join the fray immediately. Gaelio/Ein is merely giving him the opportunity to test his research. They are an obstacle he will swat away, and with Tekkadan’s help, complete his conquest of Gjallarhorn.

Mika, Orga, and Tekkadan are all counting on this shirtless, suddenly slightly unhinged-looking McGillis for all their fortunes. They cast their lot with him long ago and it’s far too late to back out, even if they wanted to. Now we’ll see if he’s actually on to something, or if Rustal is right and he’s just a kid who can’t grow up.

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SERVAMP – 01 (First Impressions)

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Shirota Mahiru, 15, likes simple things, hates troublesome things, after being orphaned his uncle becomes the “someone” to raise him, and leads him to take in a stray black cat he names Kuro that turns out to be a vampire, whom he forms a Servant-Vampire (“Servamp”) contract with to save his friends.

First of all, Shirota Mahiru is a liar. If he really hated troublesome things, he wouldn’t have saved the cat, and not regretted not taking it in. Instead, he did the one thing that would make the most trouble for him, having to take care of a pet where before he didn’t have one.

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That aside, Shirota Mahiru is also a composite of several dozen shounen heroes I’ve already seen before, which is problematic. Of course his mom got wasted in a car accident and of course he’s great at housework and would make a great wife and of course he gets saddled with an odd-couple partner.

This color-by-numbers slog continues with the expected personality-clashing slapstick, right up until things get serious when one of Mahiru’s friends seemingly loses all of his blood at once when attacked by the vampires a friend told them might be lurking around. As for why vampires exist in this world, well…they just do, ’cause.

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Speaking of “of course”, of course the bad guy is a loopy flamboyant dude in a white suit and top hat who slurs his words as he raves and swears because oooh, he’s such a Craaayzee Vampire Villain Dude! And what do you know, when Kuro (most inventive name for a character EVER) sees Mahiru put his life on the line to save his friends, he springs into action and kills (well, wounds) the crazy vamp, completing their contract and ensuring similar battles in the future.

Count me out of this yawn (and, I might mention, sausage) factory. I’m rating this niche appeal…you know, for the kind of viewer who just isn’t interested in watching something they’ve never seen a hundred times before. Because that would be too troublesome.

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Shounen Maid – 02

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Wherein Chihiro takes on an eager student and resolves to make better eggs

Like Tanaka-kunShounen Maid introduces a new female addition to the cast in the person of Ootori Miyako, who is arranged by her father to marry Madoka when she turns sixteen. The arrives at Madoka’s home having reached another impasse with her father, and we quickly learn she actually prefers Keiichirou.

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Miyako wants to prove to Keiichirou that she can be a dependable woman and future wife, and after learning Chihiro’s story, decides he’s the best person suited to teach her, being pretty hard-working, dependable, and independent himself.

Predictably, things don’t go so well on the housework front, and though she has fine cooking skills, she makes a mess in the process. Her depression washes away at first sight of Keiichirou, but soon returns, only for her to be cheered up again when Chihiro tells her what his mom told him: compromise is fine, but don’t betray yourself by doing anything against your heart.

It’s not about being selfish; it’s about making your own choices in life, something everyone should be able to do in this day and age.

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When Miyako’s father shows up to find his daughter and Chihiro a bit too close to Madoka for comfort, he drags her back home, but she returns again soon to continute her training with Chihiro. Overall Miyako is a pleasant addition to the cast, as someone both inspired and encouraged by Chihiro’s unique life story so far.

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While generally feel-good in nature, this show is tinged with the grief of the premature loss of his mother, who was by all accounts a strong-willed but kindhearted woman who never looked down at her son or sugar-coated things. Sure, she put too much sugar in her tamagoyaki back when she made them for her brother Madoka back in the day, but by the time Chihiro came around, Chiyo was an omelette expert.

As part of a bento, tamagoyaki becomes a dish Chihiro decides he’ll practice and perfect, after trying to determine what, Madoka’s favorite food is. Even when he screws up the omelette on his first try, Madoka is reminded of his sister doing the same thing.

IMO there’s few foods better than nostalgia-evoking foods, for even if they remind us of someone who has passed, that’s simply proof a part of that someone is still alive in us. So having lost the one in charge of folded omelettes, he’ll strive to become a worthy substitute.

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Shounen Maid – 01 (First Impressions)

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Shounen Maid seems like a high-concept excuse to, well, put a boy in a maid costume…for some reason, and so I wasn’t optimistic about this show from the start.

But when the titular future boy maid Komiya Chihiro attempts to burn the letter his recently deceased mother wrote him because it’s too vague, I knew we were dealing with something with a lot more wit and nuance than I initially suspected.

There’s also something great about introducing his uncle and new ward Takatori Madoka by showing him cowering in fear from a little puppy who got away from its owner.

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Chihiro may be in elementary school, but he’s had to grow up much faster than most of his peers, both with a busy mother who was always away, leaving him to do the housework, and then dying, leaving him alone in the world…or so he thought.

In reality, Chihiro’s mother Chiyo chose exile from her very wealthy family in order to have and raise Chihiro—to live the life she wanted, not one chosen for her. Learning this makes Chi feel partially responsible for his mom’s death, which is ridiculous, but he is just a little kid, and this is a lot to take in.

I also liked how big and grand and imposing Madoka’s mansion is portrayed when Chihiro first arrives. His exposure to this kind of gaudy lifestyle is completely alien to him, but imbued in his personality is a desire not to accrue debts from anyone, even his uncle.

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But more than big and imposing, Madoka’s manor is a pigsty of the highest order, something Chihiro learns by accident when hiding in the kitchen, then noticing the appalling mess. Detail-oriented, fastidious youth with a solid work ethic that he is, Chihiro pulls up his sleeves and cleans like there’s no tomorrow.

All the while, it’s clear he’s not just cleaning because he can’t tolerate messes (though that’s part of it); he’s also staying busy in order to not be a burden to anyone, as well as to take his mind off the fact he’s homesick for a home that no longer exists.

Inspired by his hard work, his Uncle Madoka makes him a frilly uniform, of a design informed by Madoka’s work as a costume designer. There’s clear contrast between Madoka’s carefree attitude and Chihiro’s serious-beyond-his-years, “Those who don’t work don’t eat” philosophy; both guys are products of their upbringing.

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But when Chihiro is too exhausted to clean anymore, Madoka and his assistant Shinozaki Keiichirou take over, cleaning a room meant to be his. He makes them clean it over again when it’s not done to his satisfaction, but he appreciates the gesture and is glad, if a little overwhelmed by suddenly having a room and a (HUGE) bed all his own. This big, unfamiliar house is gradually becoming his home.

He also sees Madoka working hard on his costumes; often so hard he neglects food and sleep, so Chihiro fixes him a snack in the night. Sure, sometimes Madoka’s “hard work” is composed of indulgent little side projects like a cat mascot suit for Chihiro, but the arrangement that has been struck is beneficial to both parties. Madoka gets a maid (and occasional model), and Chihiro gets a home and a job to avoid feeling indebted.

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 08

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Is it just me, or are we getting our money’s worth? I can’t remember the last time Yuri Kuma Arashi wasted a spare moment; probably because it essentially hasn’t. Eight episodes in, and while things are hardly ideal for Ginko, Kureha, and Lulu, most of the big mysteries have been revealed. That’s the efficiency of a one-cour, 12-episode run: pleasantly brisk storytelling that engages and excites without feeling rushed.

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One mystery that wasn’t was whether Yuriika was a bear baddie; what remained to be known was just how bad of a baddie, and why; the latter of which would determine her quality as a baddie. In her flashback, it’s revealed she was an abandoned orphan bear cub picked up by a man in high heels he likes to click (like Dorothy), who regards the school as his “box.”

Box, hive, whatever you want to call it, it’s where Yuriika had instilled in her the idea that only unsullied things kept in boxes had value. Somewhere down the road, her father lost interest in her and tried to leave, so Yuriika killed him.

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Abandoned a second time in her life, a very beautiful Yuriika fell in love with Reia, who didn’t care whether Yuriika was a bear and urged her not to keep everything locked inside, for that’s pretty much the same as not having those things at all. But whereas Yuriika’s love for Reia went beyond friendship, even past their school years, Reia grew up and had a baby. To Yuriika, Kureha becomes a squirming, cooing symbol of Reia’s betrayal.

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That’s the third time Yuriika is abandoned, and it’s the last straw, as she decides to give up on love, and return to being a box. It is Yuriika who eats Reia, trying to fill the box that is her by force. She ate her just moments after Reia gave a departing Ginko her pendant, in hopes she and Kureha will one day reunite. And getting back to the idea that putting something in a box forever is the same as not having that thing, eating Reia only left Yuriika empty, still starving and yearning.

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Enter Kureha, herself a box containing Reia’s love. Yuriika considers that love rightfully hers, stolen by Kureha, and proceeds to formulate an intricate and devastating life-long con on her; a scheme that makes Kaoru’s bullying seem like child’s play, which it was. Kureha is her titular “bride in a box;” hers to do with what she pleases at her own pace.

Only Ginko and Lulu can interrupt those plans, but she has Kureha believing Ginko is her mother’s killer, restoring the blind rage with which Kureha dispatched Yurizono. Lulu takes this opportunity to suggest she and Ginko run back to the other side of the wall; that Kureha is a lost cause; that Ginko at least has Lulu, and she her. Ginko isn’t ready to throw in the towel. She’s so determined to win Kureha back, she abandons Lulu in an important moment, ignoring her pleas not to leave her.

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The court orchestrates a confrontation on the school rooftop, and it’s interesting how they’re perceived as ageless, having delivered a very similar verdict to Yuriika years ago that they delivered to Ginko and Lulu, only with different stipulations. Yuriika gave up on love, Lulu on kisses, but Ginko gave up on neither.

Things don’t go as smoothly as Yuriika hopes, as even though Kureha is in Full Bear-Ruining Mode thanks to the incorrect information on her mother’s killer, Kureha hesitates to shoot Ginko, because Ginko isn’t backing down. It’s dawned on Ginko that perhaps the only way to get a kiss from Kureha is through a bullet…a LOVE Bullet…which explains that part of the title.

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Ginko awaits that bullet as the only way Kureha’s love for her, lost when they parted ways, will reawaken, which is obviously the absolute last thing Yuriika wants in her moment of triumph over the one who stole Reia’s love from her. It’s as if someone is opening all the boxes and dumping the contents on the dirty ground, sullying them all. But there’s also a distinct pathos to Yuriika on that roof, egging Kureha on; whether those boxes are full or not, she’s empty, and this is all she has left, and no matter the outcome, it won’t fulfill her either. She’s as tragic a figure as everyone else on that roof.

But then, suddenly, Yuriika gets a surprise assist—from Lulu. Obviously hurt from Ginko flat-out abandoning her, she hurts her right back by relaying to Kureha the what she learned from the anonymous note (which was written by Yuriika, making Lulu her trump card), which is the particulars of Ginko’s “grave crime”, which we had thought to this point was doing nothing as Yurizono ate Sumika.

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The sound of the rain drowns out everyone’s voices (a little heavy-handed, but effective), but we do hear Lulu say that Ginko “is Sumika’s…” and it’s clear from Kureha’s reaction (re-training her gun on Ginko, her rage renewed, and firing) that Lulu’s next word was something like “killer.” That could be another of Yuriika’s lies, but like so many of she’s told Kureha, this lie got her the desired effect.

At the same time, Ginko wanted Kureha to shoot her, and she did. But I doubt Kureha killed her. She may have even missed. But whatever happened when that shot was fired, Kureha, Ginko, and Lulu have never been further apart, through a combination of their own choices and Yuriika’s conniving. With three quarters of the show complete, it’s tempting to believe these girls have reached their nadir, but one shouldn’t underestimate Ikuni’s capacity for plumbing new depths.

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 07

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Ginko’s selfless act has earned her and Lulu Kureha’s permission to crash at her house, but that’s still a very long way from Kureha acknowledging her true love for Ginko. Progress is slow on this front, especially with Ginko suffering from a bad fever most of the episode.

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Meanwhile, Kaoru, who has done everything she’s done in hopes of being protected from becoming invisible, didn’t prevent Kureha and Ginko from coming together, and so she didn’t complete the intended “breaking” of Kureha. For that, she is deemed no longer of any use and disposed of by the mastermind. Since we catch a glimpse of the drawers in her office when she attacks Kaoru in bear form, it’s pretty clear at this point Yuriika is that mastermind.

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Kureha spends a lot of time staring at the feverish Ginko, contemplating why Ginko would protect Sumiko’s letter, and why Ginko says she loves her when they’ve practically just met. Kureha daydreams about her and Ginko getting a lot closer, but they only serve to frustrate her more: if there was such a person she loved so dearly, how or why did she forget?

That’s something I’d like to know too. Kureha’s been through a lot of traumatic stuff, but what could possibly create such a huge gap in her memory?

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Kureha goes to Yuriika seeking info on the “forest girl”, and unlike Kaoru (who’s in one of those drawers…yikes!), Yuriika continues to don the mask of someone Kureha can trust and confide in, while continuing to manipulate her. She says whoever has her mother’s star pendant is the enemy, and Kureha vows to kill whoever it is. But that vow doesn’t seem any more confident than her daydream with Ginko.

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This week, as she lies in Kureha’s attic with a fever that won’t break, we get her backstory; how she was an orphan left on the steps of a church, and raised along with dozens of other bears (most of whom derided her as “Lone Wolfsbane” by that church to believe that “only One needs you and gives you approval”: Lady Kumalia.

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This church made holy warriors of its orphans, who fought human girls on those snow-covered battlefields, and all the while, Ginko was fighting for the approval of Lady Kumalia. When she fell in battle, she was abandoned by her surviving peers, because they’re bears, and nature is inherently harsh.

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Ginko was resigned to that death until a young Kureha showed up and offered her hand, her love, her approval. Chewed up and spit out by the system that raised her, Ginko held true to the basic ideas instilled in her when those ideas aligned with the events in her life.

From that day onward, as far as Ginko was concerned, Kureha was, and is, Lady Kumalia, her savior. When her fever finally breaks in the present, and Kureha is once again watching over her, that’s what she calls her. This surprises Kureha, as only someone familiar with her mother’s story would know such details.

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The deal is all but sealed when Kureha finds Lulu making the same honey ginger milk, which is “the flavor of Ginko’s love”; the very same flavor as Kureha and her mysterious friend’s love back in the day, and then Kureha finds Ginko singing her mother’s love song on the porch in a hauntingly beautiful scene. The switch is finally flipped; Ginko was, and is, that girl Kureha loved.

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But not so fast! Ginko still bears the sin of having witnessed Sumika’s death and done nothing, and Yuriika is still very much invested in continuing to screw around with Kureha’s life. To that end, she is most likely the one who slips a letter through the back door that Lulu receives and reads, finally learning of Ginko’s sin.

Lulu, who has been devoted to helping bring Ginko and Kureha together, now holds in her hands the bomb that could blow all of that up. It’s a secret I see Lulu keeping out of loyalty to Ginko, but one way or another Kureha will learn that truth. Yuriika’s actions suggest wants Kureha for herself, as she had Reia before.

She’s already dealt with Sumika; now Ginko is in her crosshairs, and she’s not above trying to turn both Lulu and Kureha against her.

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