Divine Gate – 02

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Divine Gate’s second episode delves further into both Aoto and Akane’s troubled (if very different) pasts, and there’s some okay character work going on as Aoto discovers a way to start moving forward.

But it paints with awfully broad and familiar strokes, and my initial enthusiasm about Divine Gate being an absorbing if imperfect diversion took a big hit when I was introduced to Loki, another very loaded character name.

The idea of a character who’s neither entirely good nor evil is good in theory, but the execution falls short, thanks to his really dumb clown/jester design.  I don’t particularly want this joker pulling the strings. Also, a name like Loki has inescapable baggage attached to it. Like King Arthur or Leonardo da Vinci, if you’re going to use a name, you’d better do something interesting with it.

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Meanwhile, the refreshingly normally-dressed Akane and Midori visit Aoto again, they see he takes care of alley cats, but not all the time, only “when he feels like it”, something Akane thinks is worst than not feeding them at all. But when the hungry creature in need shifts from cats to a little boy, Akane himself can’t help but help, even if he can’t always be there to do so.

When Loki makes a police robot go berserk and the kid ends up in mortal peril, and the father is too terrified and injured to save him, Aoto has to make a choice; like the one he made on the train last week.

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He chooses to help Akane and Midori, who destroy the robot while he extinguishes the fire. While the saved boy initially hesitates going to his inept father, and Akane curses the dad for doing nothing, Aoto can relate to consciously wanting to do something—like move forward—but being hampered by a subconscious that’s not in sync. The father’s fear overpowered his conscious desire to save his boy.

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I know all this because a little boy with white hair and red eyes in Aoto’s subconscious tells him and us, which is a bit clunky, truth be told, like the clowny Loki, the very sight of whom irritates me. But he apparently staged the whole crisis to shake Aoto off the shelf, and he succeeded.

Aoto goes back to the night his parents were murdered, and we learn it was his brother, the favorite son, who actually did it. When Aoto takes his hand, he briefly sees the Divine Gate, but his subconscious delivers a shock of pain to his brother, who separates their hands and walks off, never to be seen again.

So Aoto isn’t the parent-killer. Yet I felt that absolving him so easily was an overly safe choice that sapped his character of darkness and complexity. Being messed up because you killed your parents, and being messed up because your brother did, are two different things.

But it’s because his brother is still out there, and he wants to see him again, that Aoto joins the academy. Also, because Akane and Midori were “annoying”.

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Divine Gate – 01 (First Impressions)

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Many years ago, Noriyuki Abe wasted no time drawing me into a world where a youth named after a berry, who looked like a delinquent to many around him, actually had a very kind and generous heart. He could also see and talk to ghosts, which is how he met his first shinigami; a very cute one who sucked at drawing.

I’m talking, of course, about Bleach, my first extended foray into serialized anime. There’s a lot of that same welcoming, beckoning quality coming off his latest work Divine Gateas well as its exploration of spirituality and mythology. It’s a hard feeling to put into words, but Active Raid didn’t have it; not for me at least. Divine Gate, like Bleach, did.

In DG the normal human world is just the normal human world, but there are two other worlds: a world of fairies and a world of demons. A few of those humans have elemental powers, and work under Arthur of the World Council either as full-fledged members or academy students like Akane and Midori.

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Then there’s Aoto, who’s clearly a powerful water-user, even without a power-enhancing driver, but wants nothing to do with the Council, despite Arthur’s believe his powers will help maintain peace between the three worlds. Instead of attending a school that will help him hone his powers, he’s at regular old school, where his peers shun him as the infamous “parent-killer.”

Even though most of Aoto’s early dialogue is internal (and quite flowery), the fact I can hear what he’s thinking is an effective way of drawing me into his world and his plight. He’s mopey and morose, but there are very good reasons for it.

Meanwhile, since this is a show about elements and colors, his moroseness is balanced by his would-be academy mates. Akane outwardly mocks Midori for actually believing in the titular “Divine Gate” that will grant any wish once opened with the power of all the elements, but somewhere in the heart of every student and Council member is a desire to encounter that gate, their individual wishes ready to go.

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Midori and Akane meet Aoto twice, but neither encounter goes particularly well. He’s got a wall up, one they don’t—and can’t—quite understand, anymore than they understand right now how a kid could really kill his parents—which Aoto freely admits when the subject comes up (though I’m not sure he’s being truthful).

But the flashback makes it clear: Aoto was the family pariah; his parents doting on the younger son while he was exiled to a shed in the backyard eating cold food. His brother knew of his plight, but also knew Aoto had the power to do something about it, so he did nothing, instead doing whatever he wanted.

So Aoto endured a thoroughly cold and loveless upbringing. Why exactly, we don’t know. The “rain” (his tears) continues to fall unendingly inside him. He doesn’t believe power can do anything, because he’s always had it and it’s never done him any good. But perhaps, with more interaction with other perspectives and elements, those inner clouds could break one day, and he’ll find that wish to be used at the Gate.

DG effortlessly drew me into its world; it’s a place I wouldn’t mind coming back to next week. Not sure about the show’s logo, though. Tilted Impact? Really?

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Ushio to Tora – 03

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In its third episode, the Demon of the Week is something that feels like a common trope in these kinds of shows—the evil painting—but Ushio included enough original twists, details, and character to make it its own, and an entertaining romp to boot. I especially enjoyed Ushio’s dad’s reaction to the fact his son let Tora out and now bears the Demon Spear. Even better: it’s Ushio’s passion for art that gets him into this week’s adventure.

That evil painting happens to be Ushio’s favorite by his favorite painter, Master Hanyuu, his last before he died. Ushio learns that Hanyuu’s daughter Reiko attends his school, but he’s blocked from approaching her by Masaki Kenichi, a bad-tempered beast of a third-year whom everyone in the school fears.

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Later, we get a nice Ushio and Asako moment: when she realizes Ushio’s only interest in Reiko is as a model for his painting, she’s willing to help him out. Even if the crazy demon shit she’s gone through feels like dreams, Ayako knows Ushio is a capable lad, and perhaps he can succeed where she failed in making Reiko a little happier.

In a pleasant surprise, after a short and evenly-matched fight, Kenichi and Ushio bro out, dropping their aggressive postures for the sake of a girl they both care about.

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Ken and Reiko were childhood friends, and he remembers her answering the door in a sheet as her demonic-looking dad feverishly painted that last portrait. Ever since he died, any guy who gets too close to Reiko meets with an unfortunate “accident”, isolating her at a crucial time in her life.

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In one of the first depictions of P.E. consisting of line dancing I can recall, Ushio insists Reiko give him some pointers. As he tells Asako, he’s not going to let sinister rumors keep him from painting his muse. Her demon dad shows up on queue and tries to blow Ushio away via tornado, but Tora happens to be around, and isn’t going to let a lowly demon steal his food. One might think being regarded as food is demeaning, but here it’s a gesture of regard.

Whether he’d admit it or not, Tora’s views on humans have been changing rapidly…and he’s had a lot more fun than he ever did in that musty basement.

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Unaware of how used to this kinda stuff Ushio is (and unable to see Tora), Reiko rushes home and tries to kill herself—for the rumored fifth time—so that her father will be appeased and no one else will get hurt (naturally, she blames herself for the casualties her dad has caused).

But Ushio isn’t going to let her die, and Ken, who had froze in fear earlier, is inspired by Ushio’s courage. They save Reiko, only for her dad to snatch her and start pulling her into the painting, something that is always creepy and nightmarish no matter how many iterations of it I witness.

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It’s—you guessed it—up to Tora to reluctantly pull a defiant Ushio out of the painting, with Ken and Reiko in tow. That frees Ushio up to spear Demon Dad, but Reiko jumps in the way at the last possible second. Fortunately, the spear only kills monsters and goes right through humans.

For that matter, the spear kills the demon, but not before purifying Master Hanyuu’s soul, which appears before them before fading away, with parting words for Reiko to “find happiness.” In his final moments before oblivion, he was able to find it in the knowledge he was free of his demonic shell and his daughter free of its torment; perhaps with her friends Ushio, Ken, and Asako, Reiko can find happiness too.

Then Ushio and Tora scamper off before they have to explain what the hell just happened. All in a day’s work!

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Kotoura-san – 01

Kotoura Haruka was born with ESP, allowing her to read minds. But as she always blurted out what others were thinking, she became and object of loathing and inadvertently pushed away both her parents and everyone who ever met her. In the present she lives alone and transferred to a new school, but doesn’t escape the backlash of her powers. However, the boy seated next to her in class, Manabe Yoshihisa, reaches out to her, impressed that she can read minds. Haruka warns him to stay away or be hurt, but he rejects her notions and declares them friends.

We really liked this. The premise of this show is exceedingly easy to lay out: Girl who has struggled with her telepathy all her life finally meets someone who wants to be her friend anyway. And yet, we were surprised how deeply this show delved into her past turmoil, and how affecting it was. Like Muv-Luv did with Yui, this series wastes no time establishing just how fucked-up and horrible of a life Kotoura has had to endure thus far. The prologue gradually gets darker and darker (visually and dramatically) as Kotoura grows up and starts destroying everything around her, simply by being honest with people. It’s hard to watch, and we don’t mean that it a bad way – despite her utter lack of tact (she’s a kid, what do you want?), you can’t help but sympathize with her. Her telepathy is a curse, while everyone around her thinks she’s a monster.

Would her parents really so callously abandon her? Would absolutely everyone she meets up to high school (with the exception of her kindly grandfather) really find her so repellent  For the purposes of this series, yes and yes. The end of this episode marks the first bright spot in her life, like, ever, when someone, Manabe, finally reaches outto her. When she reads his mind, sometimes it’s dirty, but it’s never mean like everyone else. Her insistence that she stay away is well-grounded in what we’ve seen; she may not mean to do it, but she has ruined lives. At this point, she’s given up ever connecting with anyone, because she’s afraid she’ll just push them away and hurt them. But even before she uses her power to save Manabe’s life, he doesn’t consider her a monster or a curse. He considers her a new friend. We may have just found our dark horse of the Winter!


Rating: 8 (Great)