Ahiru no Sora – 02 (Second Chance)

Kurumatani defeats the punk basket ball club, earns the respect of the girl’s team captain, and starts to warm the punk-captain’s heart through endless practice and flash backs. There is also a panty-hook.

Most sports anime feature an under dog with endless optimism and dedication to practice. This makes sense, practice is key to getting better, and the only way to make practice watchable is to show how much fun a person is having while doing it. In this regard, AnS has nothing special going for it. Except a panty hook.

Ahiru no Sora – 01 (First Impressions)


Kurumatani is a short kid who’s mom was good at basketball BEFORE SHE DIED! (and gave him her shoes) He gets in fights he cannot win. He unintentionally becomes friends with a giant Afro-Japanese kid and becomes enemies with his new school’s basketball team. He also peeps on the girl’s basketball team while they get changed in the room next to the boys’ club room.

Yeah it’s hard not to compare it to Haikyuu, which I watched for 3 seasons. However, where AnS lacks the ‘spunk’ and energy of Haikyuu!!! AnS has good comedic timing. That said, it doesn’t contain much comedy to begin with (what with Kurumatani’s downer mom and being beaten up and all). The visual style is little gray and… well it’s a short kid wins basketball anime?

Classroom of the Elite – 07

As soon as it was clear this was not only a pool episode, but an underlying operation by the guys to peep on the girls in their changing room (immediately), I sat back and settled in for what I imagined would be a pleasant but lightweight episode, “7” stamp in my hand, ready to strike.

But hidden among all the usual pool episode fanservice cliches and peeping scheme antics, this episode turned out to be something I didn’t know it was until the end, and felt silly for not realizing it. At the same time, it ever-so-gently nudged a character towards a slightly more normal human high school life.

If this episode were a sandwich, the insides would be pretty monotonous, while the bread, particularly the bottom slice, would be where the true action is. Yet the middle part—let’s call it egg salad for the purposes of this metaphor—was nevertheless crucial in setting up the twist at the end.

Clues are everywhere as to what kind of phone conversation went on between Horikita and Ayanokouji that led to her joining him, the three bad apples (including Sudo), Ichinose, Kushida, and Sakura at a lovely Summer day at the pool, rather than her usual day composed solely of study, eating, and sleeping.

‘Leisure” and “friends” are a waste of time and energy for Horikita, so what is she doing here? Nah. Merely humoring Ayano and the others? Worried he and Kushida (or Sakura, or Ichinose) will get too close if she’s not there? Nope.

Once the ridiculously overwrought and over-dramatic peeping scheme is in dire jeopardy, and Ayano asks Horikita to climb the highest diving board and deliver a stirring speech that gets the nod from her Class D colleagues but rankles the other classes, it should be clear she’s not in on the peeping scheme either…and neither is Ayanokouji.

Rather, Ayano, AKA Argos-4, served as a double agent, knowing the other guys would go through with the scheme even if he protested or failed to participate; better to let them think he’s on their side and let them fail all on their own. But the consequences of failure would spread to all of Class D, so Ayano appealed to Horikita’s pride and desire to reach Class A, and help him neutralize one more obstacle to that goal.

She does, swiping all of the SD cards from the cameras set up in the changing room, and thus while the guys’ scheme failed, Ayano’s succeeds. Getting to see Horikita in a bikini, and having her hang out with people who would be her friends if she just let them, is pretty much just a bonus for Ayano. He dunks Horikita, but when reaching out to pull her out, she pulls him in with her…as “payback” (Sakura also tries and fails—quite hilariously—to join in the fun).

Back home and in her usual routine, Horikita gets a text from Ayano: a photo of him and her with the others at the pool; a memory of a fun time. Horikita collapses on the bed, maintaining that being alone is “easier”, but does she truly want everything to be easy? Doesn’t a challenge make one’s results more satisfying?

Classroom of the Elite let its hair down a little this week, but it deserves kudos for taking the tired pool episode and peeping scheme premises and adapting them to the specific thrust of the show: Horikita and Ayano keeping Class D above water as part of the greater goal to get promoted to Class A. It also allowed Horikita to loosen up ever so slightly, while perpetuating the complex relationship between her and the still very mysterious Ayano. A win on all fronts.

Musaigen no Phantom World – 02

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Some concerns going into week two included “can the show keep me engaged in its elaborate magical mechanics?”; “can Ruru’s schtick be consistently better than silent beats it replaces?”; and “is this a lovely show that’s simply trying too hard, riding the coattails of superior past KyoAni work?” Those concerns were somewhat allayed in an episode that built on the strengths of its first outing.

Haruhiko, Reina, and Mai demonstrate solid teamwork that exploits each of their skills, and this time there’s a fourth potential member added to the mix in Minase Koito. She’s talented, and she’s been talented for a long time, but her teacher wants her to learn how to work with others.

When Minase gives the others the cold shoulder and beats them to their job at an abandoned factory, she learns pretty quickly that going it alone is not always the optimal route.

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To whit, her sound-based attacks on the phantoms are cancelled out in the same way her headphones cancel out noise. To incapacitate the phantoms, the good old-fashioned brawn of Mai is needed. Haruhiko is the one to determine what’s stopping Minase’s attack, and directs Mai to smash it.

That leaves Minase free to use her shout to take out the multipliers, Reina to swallow them, Kirby-style, and Haruhiko to seal the sound-cancelling robot by sketching it in his new sketchbook. Not a bad days work…only it doesn’t have the effect of Minase changing her tune and deciding to join their team, nor should she. She levels modest praise on the others’ efforts (ignoring Haruhiko’s entirely) and slinks off, aloof as ever.

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The battle left Mai and Reina’s uniforms filthy, which leads to them showering at Haruhiko’s, but the show doesn’t go down the easy road of having Haruhiko intentionally or accidentally peeping on them.

In fact, the whole scene at his house (the impressive library in which is the source of all his trivial knowledge) was surprisingly innocuous, for what I perceived to be a gift-wrapped harem scenario. Oh, but wasn’t the little sight gag of Ruru sitting among Haruhiko’s figurines just perfect?

Even the next day, with Mai and Reina doing stretches in their bloomers in front of Haruhiko, he’s not sketching them, but a phantom he wishes to summon. He’s only accused of being a creeper when he reacts inappropriately to their next job, which will be at an all-girl’s dorm.

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This dorm, which is ridiculously pink and fuchsia, and its inhabitants are being harassed by a peeping phantom UFO with a camera. They stake out the place, but realize it won’t come until it has something to see, so Mai and Reina kick Haru out and change. Sure enough, the UFO arrives, but it proves a handful, dodging all of Mai’s swipes and stabs and scoring lots of juicy pics in the process.

Haruhiko, meanwhile, is in the catch-22 of his services as a member of the team being required, but the girls being embarrased about being just in towels, which turn out not to be Chekhov’s Towels as they never come off. I loved the physicality and architecture of the sequence, in which he’s constantly going out the window and back up the stairs and into the fray.

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He even uses blood from an inadvertent attack by Reina (for getting tangled up in too exciting a position for him) to summon his phantom, Marchosias. Again the show has a little fun with our expectations, as despite all of Haruhiko’s past accurate sketches of their phantom foes, Marchy turns out to be a fluffy little puppy with wings (that transition from flame-wreathed demon to pink skull cloud to pup was wonderful).

Marchy help—a little, I guess—in rounding up the voyeuristic lil’ stinker, and Reina gobbles him up. The show’s theretofore restraint with amorous material pays off and heightens the sense of surprise when Reina decides to suck on Haruhiko’s finger…and not because she knows her saliva has healing properties, but because she just felt like it.

As for Minase, she peeks her head in, but again claims to be #notimpressed with the team. Sure, they’re not the most professional and efficient, but they get the job done and entertain in the process. If she joined them, a good team might become great. One wonders what will end up swaying her, but I’m glad the show’s not rushing her initiation. Then there’s that strange device Ruru found…

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Prison School – 02

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This week we meet Mari’s dad Kurihara (voiced by Fujiwara Keiji), the chairman of the school, and the man who allowed boys to enroll at the school in the first place. Kurihara has a very hilarious way of speaking, ending each sentence with a dramatic pause before delivering the final words like an accusation.

At first he looks like he could potentially be a useful ally to the guys, as he insists Mari at least give them the weekends off, opening the opportunity for Kiyoshi to have his sumo date with Chiyo after all. That impression doesn’t last long, however, as Mr. Kurihara immediately becomes more a liability than an asset (he left a web page featuring “latina asses” open on his computer).

Note he doesn’t rub this in her face; she finds it out by accident. But it’s enough to anger her into giving the inmates so much work they won’t possibly get it all done by the weekend. Kiyoshi’s dreams are crushed almost as soon as he let them take hold. Then he spots an anthill, and decides no matter what, he’s breaking out.

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My first thought was “okay, they’re totally getting their sentence doubled.” But this week doesn’t move too fast; instead, it delves into the difficulties of breaking out. However, Kiyoshi gets instant and powerful motivation when Chiyo herself tosses him the details of their date to him.

I’ve very glad there’s at least one girl at the school who doesn’t consider all men scum, and who is perfectly fine with Kiyoshi breaking the rules if it means she can enjoy a sumo match with him. And God, their little sumo-related (I’m guessing) “thank you” gestures are the most adorable fucking thing.

I still can’t see a scenario in which he’s able to get out without getting caught and having his sentence doubled or worse. But Chiyo makes it worth the risk.

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But as Kiyoshi continues to scrape a hole in the wall within the refuse shed, he gets the feeling Gakuto knows about his plan, because Gakuto pretty much tells him he knows about his plan (the dramatic expressions in this show are a freakin’ hoot).

Kiyoshi has another immediate problem: Hana. Her thirst for justice, honor, and equity in all things demands that because he saw her pee (never mind how accidental that was), she gets to watch him pee. And the more she tries to make that happen, the more excited she gets, the more it seems her interest in Kiyoshi goes beyond simply balancing the scales, demonstrating that the show is interested in presenting the perversions of both sexes, not just the lads’.

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There’s a lot I loved in this episode, but one scene I might consider my favorite is when Mari and her dad cross paths in the hall after school. When the book slips out of her dad’s hands and photos of butts scatter all over the floor; the looks and words that are exchanged; the dad’s final look at the camera as he finishes his lines with panache, it’s pretty much perfection, and it had me in stitches.

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Once again, an easily-avoided slip-up by Mari’s dad convinces her that the inmates need even harsher treatment, resulting in Shiraki Meiko using her new riding crop with gusto on Kiyoshi and Gakuto at once, with Gakuto taking “heads” and Kiyoshi taking “tails” in the worst way.

Kiyoshi and Gakuto’s plan to destroy the shed (so they can stay near his escape route without suspicion) goes off without a hitch, but they don’t count on Hana setting up a table and chair and supervising the repairs personally. She also brings enough tea to make Kiyoshi have to go really bad, something she’s determined to be present for.

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This results in the raunchiest and grossest set piece to date: when Hana gets impatient and tries to whip Kiyoshi out herself, he struggles, she trips, grabs what she can (his pants), pulls them (down), and in the commotion, Kiyoshi just…can’t…hold it in anymore. That brings us to a match cut to rival 2001’s bone-to-satellite transition—with Meiko having a most unladylike drink before hearing Hana’s scream.

By no means did Kiyoshi want to do what he did, and he’s clearly ashamed that it happened. Unlike the peeping, he had virtually no control of his role in either peeing incident. If anything, it will be that much harder for him to look at Chiyo without being subsumed by guilt, now that yet another secret he can never tell her about has come between them. Kiyoshi’s slow moral destruction continues apace…

There’s also the matter of him and Hana still not being completely even. If Hana believes in absolute, eye-for-an-eye justice, well then, she’d have to do to him what he did to her. In any case, Prison School has shown it won’t pull its punches.

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Prison School – 01

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I had a very full Summer 2015, so it stands to reason a show fell through the cracks. But what a show! Prison School’s first episode zooms along, laying everything out with succinctness and flair. It’s better looking than Shimoneta, for a start, and on at least some levels, the comedy is a little more sophisticated (no one’s going around blurting out double entendres, for example…though “Joe” does blurt out bad words).

This is the story of five guys lucky enough to be the first male students at Hachimitsu Private Academy, but after a few awkward attempts to interact with the female supermajority, they get greedy, blow it, and end up incarcerated by the super-conservative, super-sadistic Underground Student Council (USC).

The biggest victim is our protagonist and window into this world: Fujino Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kamiya, bitches!), who is, among the five guys, the one most likely to score a date. He’s hardly confident, however, and stumbles upon the lovely (and sumo-obsessed) Chiyo quite by accident: ironically, he’s able to hang with her in convo and even score a date thanks to his also sumo-obsessed mom.

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But like I said, the boys totally blow it, by going on a black ops peeping mission involving a smartphone (Kiyoshi’s no less) dangling from a wire in the girl’s bathroom window. When it falls into a plant (physics!) Kiyoshi has to go in and retrieve it, and horror of horrors, the only girl still in there is his beloved Chiyo.

The tension of almost getting caught so many times is infectious, but Kiyoshi’s luck is formidable, as Chiyo is woefully nearsighted, mistake shim for her dark-haired best friend, and leaves before she realizes who he really is. Unfortunately, that’s where Kiyoshi’s luck runs out, because as his four tied-up friends are caught by the USC, the council president herself (Ohara Sayaka, bitches!) sidles up to him and takes him into custody.

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What’s great about this premise is that there isn’t any particular injustice here; the guys are guilty, and they deserve punishment. It’s just a matter of levels. The USC decides to incarcerate them in an underground facility under the school, where they’ll take their classes by video and perform manual labor all the rest of their waking hours.

When Kiyoshi locks eyes with Chiyo, he assumes she knows all and has condemned him along with all the other girls. But in a nice twist…she hasn’t; absolutely certain “no one who loves sumo can be a bad person.”

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As for the USC’s tactics, the prez tries using her extremely violent Veep Shiraki Meiko (Itou Shizuka, bitches!) as an enforcer, but quickly determines that the guys are masochists who come to love Meiko’s punishment. So Mari switches to Midorikawa Hana (Hanazawa Kana, bitches!) whose short temper, devastating karate-based punishment, and bulky leggings that cover all conspire to deprive the lads from deriving any pleasure.

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While searching for four-leaf clover (again hinting at Kiyoshi’s general luck thus far), he finds a baby crow on the ground, and without giving it a second thought, climbs a tree and puts him back in his nest with his siblings. This is all witnessed by Chiyo from a classroom window, as further evidence Kiyoshi’s a good guy.

Kiyoshi is a good guy, precisely because he feels so bad about not telling her he’s as guilty as the others insofar as he conspired to peep on girls. Instead, he tells her he’ll come with her to the sumo match, despite the fact he’s in prison. I’m interested to learn how he intends to swing that, and how he’ll continue to wrestle with his guilt as his courtship with Chiyo continues and possibly deepens.

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Rather than a bad guy, Kiyoshi is extremely suceptible to bouts of both extremely good and extremely bad luck. Case in point: right after getting to chat with Chiyo, he finds himself an unwitting witness to Hana having a tinkle in what she believes to be a secluded, unsurveilled part of the forest. As for that baby crow he saved? His mom doesn’t care about that act of kindness, and when she defends her nest, Kiyoshi falls…right onto Hana.

All in all, a very snappy, punchy, generally hilarious first outing that, had I seen it back in June, would definitely have had me sold right from the start. The show looks great; the boys are all ridiculous characters who are funny just to look at, let alone hear (tiny-faced Andre…what’s up with that???). The show also has a penchant for intense close-ups and weird, interesting camera angles and framing, and an all-world voice cast.

My exposure to Prison School has come late, but but better late than…well, you know.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 01 (First Impressions)

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Fall 2015 is the season of battling magical school anime, and after previously sampling the very similar Gakusen Toshi Asterisk, I’m going to come right out and declare Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry the week one winner, and it wasn’t really close. Rakudai had the smarter, fleeter, more engaging intro, and featured far stronger characters and an actual arc. It even handled fanservice better, as Ikki manages not to use any boobs as handrests.

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Stella Vermillion, like Asterisk’s Julis, is also a pink-haired princess with high-ranked magical skills and initially reacts in a similar fashion when Ikki, a much lower-ranked student accidentally peeps on her. But her later reactions are a lot more nuanced, as she’s actually impressed by Ikki’s “manliness”, and is disarmed by his appeal to her rare beauty.

The show is also pretty cheeky in witholding the reason Stella (finely voiced by Ishigami Shizuka) was even in Ikki’s room changing. The director of the school, in an effort to shake things up, brings together the strongest and weakest Magic Knights at her school by making them roommates. When the two quibble over house rules, she also suggests they settle matters with a mock battle.

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The method in her madness becomes clear when the two knights clash in the arena. Ikki may have the least natural talent, but he works uncommonly hard to overcome his weaknesses.

Stella, who came to Japan to escape the box labeled “Genius” her people put her in, wants to prove she works hard too, and isn’t just gliding on her natural talent.

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To Stella’s surprise, not only is Ikki not a pushover, but he notices how hard she works in the way she’s fighting. He also steals her sword skills in order to keep up, and uses a once-per-day trump card to nullify her coup-de-grace and nab the victory.

In the hospital, Stella realizes she wasn’t any better than her legions of worshipers, putting Ikki in a box labeled “The Worst One.” But as the director asserts, and what is proven in their battle, is that there’s no reliable way to evaluate Ikki’s true strength. And there’s value in sticking around someone like him if she wants to grow as a knight.

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In a nice inversion of the scene where he walked in on her dressing, Stella almost grows up too much when she comes home to find Ikki asleep, and can’t help but touch him, curious as to how a man really feels. He’s a twist-and-turner in bed, so she gets snagged by one of his arms, and seems on the verge of having a crisis when he wakes up asking what she’s doing on top of him.

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And that gets to the strength of Rakudai so far: its central couple, Stella and Ikki. When they meet they misunderstand one another, but they never outright hate each other, and by the end, they fully embrace sharing a living space and learning more from one another.

This is partly because Stella lost the duel and is merely honoring their arrangement, but also because she gained a lot of respect for Ikki, now that she knows more about him. And while Ikki does slip up early, he is, well, very chivalrous. This isn’t rocket science: decent characters can go a long way towards making a decent show.

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