Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 06

CCS definitely seems to be building towards something on the Clear Card and Cloaked Figure fronts, but the show is more than content to apportion that plot in dribs and drabs. To be honest, so am I—Sakura and her circle friends are likable enough that I’m just fine hanging out with them as their normal lives unfold.

While out shopping Sakura runs into Akiho, and discovers that she carries around a little stuffed rabbit, and considering Kero-chan pretends to be a stuffed animal, I wouldn’t be surprised if Akiho had a familiar of her own who stayed still around others.

As a newcomer to the franchise, I’m also chuffed to finally meet Keroberos in his “true form” as a great winged cat; he whips that out when another face from past shows, Meiling, has a Facetime call with Sakura.

Our only check-in on the Cloaked Figure mystery is when Sakura suddenly spaces out and ends up in a strange space filled with giant shimmering clocks and gears. She asks the figure questions but as always the figure says nothing.

From there, it’s back to school, where both Sakura and Akiho demonstrate their aptitude for reciting Japanese, and Tomoyo invites Akiho to try out the Chorus Club, recruiting Syaoran to accompany them on the piano as they sing a lovely duet.

The Clear Card of the Week is almost an afterthought, as ominous sounds of a camera recording turn out to be the “Record” Card, which Sakura secures without any difficulty whatsoever. I guess not every card-capture involves hazards!

Another week, another card for Sakura, while Syaoran seems increasingly frustrated he can’t sense them the way he could sense the Clow Cards of past series. Whether that inability will curdle into resentment or envy, creating a rift in his budding romance with Sakura, remains to be seen.

But then, a lot remains to be seen: who Akiho is, who the cloaked figure is (if not Akiho), whether Momo can move and talk like Kero, what Syaoran is keeping from Sakura and why, and what exactly the deal is with all these dang Clear Cards.

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Eromanga-sensei – 03

When Masamune investigates the abandoned, possibly haunted house next door, he’s surprised to find Yamada Elf has just moved in: and likes to play the piano naked after a shower to get inspired to write.

After the standard accusations of peeping tommery, she invites him in, and most of the episode is given over to making Elf a little more dimensional, if still grating in her intense, obnoxious arrogance.

As Sagiri’s bedroom window faces Elf’s office, you’d think it wouldn’t be long before she found out who Eromanga-sensei is, but Elf sees Masamune’s sister and thinks she’s just that: a little sister who has fun drawing, not the person whose services they’re fighting over.

It’s also a bit shitty of Masamune not to even mention to Sagiri his little wager with Elf, considering Sagiri is the ‘prize’. Then again, it’s a good thing that Masamune isn’t the perfect MC while everyone around him is flawed in some way.

Indeed, Masamune’s flaw seems to be that in spite of Elf’s toxic personality, incessant pretentiousness, and pronunciation of ahhh-neee-may, he can’t help spending time with his new neighbor, nor indeed being a fan himself, even if meeting Yamada-sensei wasn’t what he expected.

For a time, it doesn’t seem like Elf invited Masamune in just to rub his nose in her superior success, but to spend time with a fellow author. She earnestly asks why he’s a fan, and he earnestly answers: after a death in the family, her books cheered him up. They taught him that novels can “save lives” of some readers, and for that she has his heartfelt thanks, competition or no.

Elf’s reaction betrays a softer, more genuine side to her, even if it’s short-lived and she’s back to being awful the next day. But it’s also clear that she’d rather have Masamune around than not, and also strongly disagrees with his workaholic approach to authoring, as she considers her job a “hobby” and only writes if her motivation is maxed out.

Despite knowing nothing of their competition involving her, Sagiri is uneasy anyway because her big brother, who has been All Hers up to this point, is suddenly ‘in the web’ of a cute, rich next-door neighbor.

While her music and online fans keep Eromanga merry, I feel one of the factors that drives her motivation to draw is knowing Masamune will always be there in the house, serving her meals and protecting her.

Yamada throws a thorn in that arrangement, and it will be interesting to see whether that motivates Sagiri to explore beyond her room. But yeah…Masamune really should tell her about his wager with Elf.

Little Witch Academia – 10

Note: I filled in for Oigakkosan reviewing this episode. —Preston

Akko, Lotte, and Sucy’s pleasant afternoon ice cream is marred when Diana’s Maybach limo rolls up and her two lackeys jump out just to gloat that they’re going to a sumptuous party celebrating Lord Andrew’s top marks.

Sucy has just shown Akko and Lotte a “Fallin Lovelove Bee” that was delivered to her in error, and we already know precisely where this is going: the peasant girls will crash Andrew’s party, and the Love Bee will sting him, sending him head-over-heels for Akko.

Because it’s so obvious this is going to happen, Akko’s desire to stick it to Diana’s lackeys by attending the party uninvited doesn’t feel like her own choice, only a means to get that bee sting in Andrew’s neck. While Akko and Lotte clean up great, the two-hour, half-price “Cinderella Kit” is just a means to those means…not to mention overly borrow-y feeling.

Andrew is his usual dismissive, aloof jerkface self, while his pal Frank is his usual friendly, decent self. Just when he’s tossing the witches out, Drew gets stung, Akko is the first face he sees, and we’re off to the races. The Bee also stings Frank and three other dudes who all fall for Lotte, then stings Diana, who also falls for Akko. Akko spends much of the evening flailing around, not ready for this kind of “attention.”

Eventually she gets away from her pursuers, then overhears Andrew’s dad chewing him out about staying on the precise path that has already been laid out for him, and not wasting his time on witches or “effeminate” piano playing.

When Akko gets a bead on the bee, she darts all around the party, swatting at it in vain. Andrew, still at least partially under her spell, plays the piano (“Flight of the Bumblebee”, of course) to accompany her. Finally the bee stings Drew’s father, but seconds later Akko kills the bee and the spell is lifted from all.

The Cinderella spell also fizzles out, Akko & Co. return to their uniforms, and Andrew reverts back to being a dick. Maybe he changed a little bit, like the last time he met Akko, but the guy is so stone-faced and inert, it’s as hard to tell as last time, leading to another shrug on the night.

In a nice twist, even post-spell, Frank asks Lotte out because he thinks they’d get along, but she turns him down gently, preferring they were friends first. But otherwise, after the bee reset button is pressed, we’re pretty much back to where we started. No one has changed and nothing was learned.

Now ten episodes in, LWA is not what I was hoping it would be: a show with a structured arc in which Akko gradually improves as a fledgeling witch, some kind of sustained conflict arrives that she and her friends and classmates must come together to overcome. The modern world’s increasing rejection of their craft, for instance.

Instead, the show is content to dawdle around with self-contained episodes that start and end in pretty much the same place, and an Akko who is unapologetically static in both her magical ability and personality. Her dreams remain way to vague and childish to carry any further significance, no matter how much she waxes poetic about them, and the entire premise of crashing a party for spite, leading to the pedestrian “love spell” antics, was generally unsatisfying.

Akko, Lotta and Sucy are still usually more fun to watch than not, but their lack of development and LWA’s lack of direction thus far make it hard to keep coming back. I never expected Madoka, but I would have settled for a story, rather than the series of disjointed, inconsequential vignettes we got.

Houkago no Pleiades – 04

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The magical transformations girls make in Magical Girl shows often go hand in hand with their personal growth. It’s as much about discovery and mastery of their identity as much as their powers.

Pleiades is no different from this convention; where it continues to distinguish itself is in the execution and the emotional impact of its situations. Last week was about Subaru. This week, it’s Hikaru’s turn to get fleshed out.

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At the same time, the show continues to incrementally extend the reach of its magical girl action with each passing episode, much to my delight. First the sky, then the boundary between Earth and space, and now…the moon. The training, involving being able to attain not only escape velocity, but a speed that will ensure they don’t miss school! I love it.

While largely about the highly intelligent and talented, yet underachieving Hikaru’s personal emotional impasse with her similarly intelligent, talented, overachieving parents, there’s also room this week for Subaru’s weekly visit to Minato’s garden of encouragement, where he plants the seed of believing someone, and being believed, if there’s no reason for them to think you’re lying.

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That’s important, because Hikaru’s family communicates their daily whereabouts primarily through whiteboard. Her apartment may look empty and lonely at first glance, but that board is crucial, dutifully filled out as it is every day without fail: it’s the way they devised to always stay in contact in spirit, if not often in person.

Before leaving for the moon, Hikaru makes something up on the board, once again “doing things halfway”. But then she decides to wipe out the white lie on the whiteboard and write where she’s actually going: the Moon.

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It’s another awesome journey full of grace and grandeur; another wonderful study on the full breadth of magical girl power. I especially liked the different, more subtle sound space made once the girls were clear of Earth’s atmo, and I really enjoyed Hikaru’s cute little dream where her subconscious’ version Subaru as a bit of an idiot—only to learn Subaru shared her dream!

That’s also key because Subaru knows about Hikaru’s unease with her father and the song he wrote. One night she heard music in his practice room even though he wasn’t in there, and decided to write a measure of music in a place where he had gotten stuck. It’s something she always felt guilty about, worried she was interfering in her parents fully achieving their dreams.

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Where she’s wrong is that she is the shared dream of her parents; one far more important than any concerto or astronomical discovery. When her dad sees she wrote down “Moon!” on the whiteboard, he and her mom work together to send his piano music to the Moon; to the cherished daughter they don’t feel they deserve.

She didn’t mess up her dad’s music; she helped him finished it, and the loving way he plays it demonstrates his pride and gratitude for that. The nabbing of their biggest fragment yet is a great product of their lunar excursion, but it’s overshadowed by Hikaru finally being able to show her feelings in front of her friends, who may be initially shocked by her tears, but are also happy they’re seeing another side of their friend.

So, all in all another very good episode from Pleiades. I look forward to seeing who’s turn it will be to get a little more fleshed out next week—Itsuki? Nanako?—and hope the show’s expansion will proceed deeper out into the solar system, and beyond!

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Glasslip – 12

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The snowy world where the combination of Kakeru’s mom playing the piano and the way the light passes through the glass vase isn’t the future, nor the past, but an entirely different world altogether; one in which Touko, not Kakeru, is new to the town and thus the odd one out as the fireworks near.

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I must confess, I’m still not sure exactly what’s going on, but it has a nice dreamy “off-ness” to it, with Touko acting as if everything is perfectly normal, right up until it isn’t, at the Fireworks. There she’s aware that things are different; that she’s alone in this world. How and why are anyone’s guess. College professors will be talking about this episode for some time to come (no they won’t).

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My intermittent confusion aside, I simply enjoyed the weird, alternate universe ride, with everyone pretty much acting the way they do in the world we’re familiar with—including the pairings of Yuki/Yana and Hiro/Sachi—and only Kakeru and Touko’s relationships swapped with the seasons, but both they and their families remain drawn together by fate.

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At one point before Kakeru told her it was all in her head, I entertained the possibility this alternate world was just as real and legitimate as the “normal” one, and that perhaps circumstances had fully unlocked Touka ‘s “ability”, to the point she could travel between different realities at will (or by accident).

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Even if that’s not the case, this was quite a leap in prominence for what started out as a very modest supernatural element. We’ll see if it can be satisfactorily resolved in the finale. One thing’s for sure, the music was particularly powerful this week in establishing a very dreamlike, melancholy atmosphere. Will Glasslip take the rare step of ending unhappily?

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Glasslip – 11

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—She’s kind and indecisive. She gets pushed around. She has trouble with it. And I’m making her even more confused. She made me realize I don’t know anything.
—I see. You like her.

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That’s one hell of a great line by Kakeru, followed by a great response by his mom. The description of one’s love for someone can and has filled great libraries throughout the ages, but at the end of the day, love is just love. As the Oracle said, you just know when you’re in love, through and through. Kakeru’s heart knows, even if his busy brain hasn’t caught up.

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Hina’s such a good sister. Lucky for her, Touka isn’t up to anything THAT bad.

First of all, this was a great episode for people who don’t like everyone being miserable and mad at each other for extended periods of time in these kind of shows, for every couple is where they should be: together, and more to the point enjoying being together, whether it’s Yuki going to see Yana dance, then running together, Sachi and Hiro going on a hike together, or Kakeru and Touka for nearly the whole episode.

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After their kiss, which neither regrets, Kakeru wonders if he’s just trying to make himself think he likes Touka. All due respect, Dr. Kakeru, Ph.D., but you’re still in friggin’ high school. I think you’re overthinking things. But then again, when you’re seeing what may be flashes of possible futures, perhaps you can’t afford not to be serious.

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When the two decide to watch his mom play piano with her family present, like when they spend the night in the art room, Kakeru and Touka are experimenting; attempting to experience conditions that might stimulate Touka’s ability. But when Touka’s parents (and Hina, who really went to bat for Touka the previous night) actually come, and mingle pleasantly with Kakeru’s, he also wonders that maybe that’s enough.

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All these supernatural flashes and visions are really a more direct manifestation of the fear of loneliness Kakeru would have anyway. Life has given him a choice: his mom is willing to take him abroad with her, or he can go to school and get closer to Touka. But that choice is set aside for now, and they hold hands listening to his mom play, and a vision of snow falling on the town takes over. Is winter coming?

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I don’t want to discount the awesomeness of the other two couples; while they got less time, they made the most of it. During a blissful mountaintop picnic, Sachi apologizes to Hiro, while Yuki and Yana are now much better, to the point Yana isn’t even upset when Yuki says he has to talk with Touko one more time. The couples are all together now, but whether they stay that way depends both on circumstances and the choices they’ll have to make once they run out of summer.

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Monday Music – Space Dandy – Searching for Code D

As we said in this the review of episode 9, Space Dandy does some great montages. We’re apparently not alone in this opinion, as Funimation/Adult Swim saw fit to use the minute-plus of Planet Planta-trekking to promote the show on YouTube. Enjoy!

White Album 2 – 12

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Touma tells Setsuna she’s moving to Vienna. While on the school rooftop, Setsuna tells Io how she “jumped in the middle” between Haruki and Touma, even though she knew about Touma’s feelings for him. On graduation day, Setsuna tells Haruki Touma left her a note. He goes looking for her, without success. Later that night Touma finally calls him, and he finds her right outside his building, where they embrace, call each other by their first names and kiss.

Setsuna admits fault for snatching Haruki from  Touma Kazusa, but it wasn’t really much of a surprise that she knew Kazusa liked him, and was even there when Kazusa kissed the sleeping Haruki after the concert. But in that moment, Setsuna, having fallen for Haruki, couldn’t be blamed for taking the course of action that would lead to her happiness. It was as much an act of desperation as it was pragmatism. Her happiness at his saying yes overpowered her sense of loyalty to Kazusa.

Of course, Setsuna also happens to believe Haruki only accepted her confession because he was thinking of her feelings before his own. But as we look at how things eventually turned out, we can’t discount the possibility Haruki and Kazusa may never have gotten anywhere were it not for Setsuna. It took Kazusa losing Haruki to Setsuna—and Haruki nearly losing Kazusa to Vienna—for the two of them to fully grasp how deeply they felt for one another.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

White Album 2 – 11

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Flashbacks chronicle November ’07 to February ’08. Touma teaches Haruki the guitar and later secretly plays along on the piano; Haruki gives her an English grammer book which she treasures; she kisses an asleep Haruki after their concert; learns she learns her mother flew to Japan to watch her, and after the recital and invites her to live in Vienna with her. Back in the present, Haruki responds to Touma’s confessions by embracing and kissing her, but goes too far, upsetting her, and she runs off.

Touma has loved Haruki practically since they met and he started caring for her, unbeknownst to Haruki, but he’s not fully to blame for his ignorance. This is because time and again Touma has put the interests of others ahead of her own and acted contrary to her best interests, and stubbornly stuck with decisions she shouldn’t have. Earlier in the series Setsuna adopted a specific persona around her classmates that wasn’t the real her. Touma also adopted a persona around Haruki and Setsuna; that of someone cool, sarcastic, and aloof who likes hanging out with them. In reality, hanging out with them has given her nothing but pain, and as the couple she gave her blessing to grow closer, she decides to bow out of the triangle altogether.

Once again, it’s what’s best for the others, but not her. Being just friends with Haruki isn’t enough, and it never was, and yet she’s never been able to express it in a way he could comprehend. This episode showed us that other Touma that she hadn’t shown to Haruki until that snowy night in February when he picks her up from the airport. Even then, she’s put off by his overaggressive kissing (we assume it’s her first kiss with an awake boy), which only serves as a reminder that this is what he done many times with Setsuna. Touma knows what she wants, she just doesn’t know how to get it. If Touma really is the one he loves, Haruki has some work to do that will make prepping for the concert seem like, well, child’s play. Time to grow up and stop playing around.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

 

White Album 2 – 09

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January: Touma practices for her recital, skipping school and ignoring Haruki’s calls, as Haruki and Setsuna grow closer together. The day of the recital arrives, and Touma sees Haruki and Setsuna together. Afterwards, she doesn’t place and does receive any recommendations, but is glad Setsuna was moved. Haruki asks her to join them for Setsuna’s birthday on February 14th. He later changes his mind and wants to be alone with Setsuna, but she wants everyone there. Still, she invites only Touma and Haruki. On her birthday, she receives a bouquet from Touma. Haruki goes to Touma’s house to find that she’s flown the coop.

After what must have been an extremely fun hot spring trip, Haruki is spending his final semester of school like you’d expect: waiting for graduation while spending as much of his time with Setsuna. It’s getting pretty serious, and he’s even forward enough to suggest to Setsuna that they spend her birthday—also Valentine’s Day, conveniently—alone, knowing full well what that could entail. But guilt gnaws at both of them, and despite Touma’s blessing, she’s not doing a great job of hiding her contempt for the present situation. On the contrary, her efforts to assure Haruki she doesn’t feel a thing only makes him more suspicious. Setsuna waves off Haruki’s suggestion they take things to the next level, but that’s just a cover for giving Touma one last chance to speak now or forever hold her peace.

Setsuna loves Haruki, but she can’t ignore that Touma may love him too, and she was technically first in his life. She’s not being altogether fair to herself, but she loves Touma too, and doesn’t want to hurt her. When Haruki changes course for Touma’s after remembering their embrace and her face on the train platform, it’s more evidence that while he has Setsuna, and should by all rights thank his god what a lucky bastard he is, within him a glimmer of doubt remains. But it won’t be assuaged easily, as Touma is out of reach at the worst possible time for him. Maybe he’s not so lucky after all. Maybe a luckier man would only have one woman to choose from, and wouldn’t have to worry about whether he made the right choice or hurting the one he rejected.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

White Album 2 – 08

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December arrives. Setsuna and Haruki start dating with Touma’s blessing.Touma lets Setsuna start calling her Kazusa. They also help her study for exams, which she ends up passing, assuring her graduation. To celebrate, the three go on a trip to a hot spring inn in the mountains, a tradition Setsuna hopes they’ll do every year, no matter what happens. Kazusa tells the others she’s delaying college to give piano a serious go, starting with a recital after new years, which Haruki and Setsuna promise to attend.

With Haruki and Setsuna dating, Kazusa seemingly fine with it while also passing her classes, things seem to be going swimmingly since their school fair concert. The three continue to spend time together, including Christmas at a very swanky mountain inn, culminating in the three sharing a hot spring together, without doubt the most intimate contact they’ve had yet. But this show has always been about what people aren’t saying, or in Touma’s case what she “jokes” about. Then there’s Haruki the narrator, speaking from the future, who knows how this all ends, and knows that concert was the apex of the trio’s happiness.

We still find it sad that he’s looking back at the Christmas adventure with a degree of regret and/or anguish, because by all rights, they really do seem to enjoy themselves, whether in the car together (which Kazusa drives with increasing efficacy), to getting stranded on a snowy road, to even being comfortable being naked together in a hot spring (major kudos to this show for not taking the cliched anime route here), everything seems to be fine between them. But it’s not just Touma’s jokes, Haruki’s voiceovers, or the cautious whispers of their outer circle of friends, but also the fact we’ve got five more episodes that tell us that the trio’s troubles aren’t over.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

White Album 2 – 05

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Things are tense between Setsuna and Haruki on the way home, but Haruki calls her later that night, and apologizes for not telling her he stayed at Touma’s to practice. She tells him how her friends stopped talking to her back in middle school due to misunderstandings, and is afraid of losing friends again. Haruki promises he’ll never leave her; before hanging up she makes him call her by her first name. The next day, during a test, the teacher confiscates Touma’s music book. She loses her temper, grabs it, and runs out of the classroom. Haruki and Setsuna join her in skipping class and practicing. Later, at home, after completing the last song for the fair, Touma collapses from exhaustion.

In a friendship, sometimes withholding information is as bad as lying. Setsuna’s been there before; it involved a boy, and her friends abandoned her one by one. So she has every reason to suspect history is repeating itself when she finds Haruki’s toothbrush in Touma’s bathroom. But as Haruki tries to efficiently get to the vital points of things, he doesn’t let the discomfort he felt with Setsuna on their walk home linger to the point where a rift between them would widen. He apologizes, she tells him why she acted the way she did, he understands, and he promises her he won’t leave her like her other friends did. It’s a long phone call, but we like how it unfolds and progresses, especially when she abruptly ends it after finally getting a “Setsuna” out of Haruki.

So everybody’s happy, right? Well, not quite. Touma is putting so much into the music, it’s unlikely she’ll graduate along with her club-mates without their help. She doesn’t even bother filling in the blanks on a test that will affect her grade, and worse, she shows up a teacher, not letting him take her music book with Kitahara’s name on it. But she’s also working so hard, she may not have any more gas for the actual performance; staying up for days on end is no healthy way to live. And at the end of the day, Haruki is developing feelings for two girls, and vice-versa. Just because Haruki and Setsuna are on amiable terms now doesn’t mean another misunderstanding or two isn’t lurking on the horizon.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)