Musaigen no Phantom World – 03

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This was another beautifully rendered KyoAni episode bursting with wonderful character details and kickass action that make a rewatch a must to catch what one might’ve missed. But it did hamper itself somewhat with its overarching theme of memory and all the absurd (and boring) technobabble required to push out an episodic plotline.

The club’s next target is a phantom blocking a bridge, but when Mai, Haruhiko and Reina arrive, they find there are two phantoms, and they’ve both been waiting for Mai. She might’ve been able to take one by herself, but against the two she’s overwhelmed and she has to beat a hasty retreat facilitated by Haruhiko’s use of Marchosias to distract the phants.

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Realizing they’ll need more physical skill and strength against the dual warrior princesses, Mai quickly set sup a martial arts training regimen for Reina and Haruhiko. Everyone even deesses up in Chinese-style outfits for no reason other than it looks cool (gym uniforms could certainly have sufficed, right?).

But it doesn’t go so well; Haruhiko is hopeless, and while Reina is good at self-defense (throwing Haru for the third time in three episodes as a result of sudden too-close-for-comfort contact), Mai is loath to allow a young pretty girl get messed up in what could be a brutal fight. No, she’d rather keep trying with the more malleable Haru, whom she cares less about if he gets messed up.

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Then the rather bizarre idea of Haruhiko somehow copying Mai’s procedural memories of martial arts in order to assist her in the fight. Their teacher Himeno-sensei believes it’s possible due to Haruhiko’s ability to access the metaphysical world in order to summon phantoms.

There’s all kinds of talk about a collective consciousness where all human memory exists in the same metaphysical plane, like some kind of human cloud storage. Ok, fine…but then Himeno “makes” Haruhiko and Mai go on a friggin’ date around places where she has strong memories, to try to synch up his memories with hers.

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Don’t get me wrong; it’s a cute, lovely date, but there isn’t the slightest bit of romantic chemistry between Mai and Haru, giving the proceedings, prettily-rendered they may be (the music is nice too), a somewhat sterile feeling; that these are just motions they’re going through. More interesting is the fact Reina seems pissed whenever Mai and Haru are getting along (and she eats a lot to try to distract herself), but that’s only a bit part of what’s going on.

Eventually, they return to the river and the bridge where they first met the twin warrior princesses, and it dawns on us—well before Mai or even Haruhiko—that the two girls she met at that same spot ten years ago and made instant friends with were actually the princesses. In the rematch, Mai holds her own while Haru goes down instantly. The combat animation, as is to be expected, is top-notch, by the way.

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When Mai gets blasted and Haru rushes to catch her, he twists his ankle, and their two heads bang together, and that’s how he ends up accessing their minds. Excuse me, but WAT? I know this is fantasy, but Mai and Haru having a shared meta-conscious experience wherein Haru is able to perceive her memories as bubbles in a sea? Pretty, and fun, but awfully ridiculous, too.

Less absurd, however, is what he discovers: Mai’s memories of being a quiet, shy little girl are false. In fact, when she met these two girls, she beat the crap out of them, laughing all the way. That led them to train for ten years in order to beat her when she eventually returned to the bridge. The idea that we remember things the way we want—to fit our idea of ourselves, and accurate memories morph into fictions over long stretches of time—is a relatable one.

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Now back to the fantasy silliness. Haru gains Mai’s martial arts skills, but doesn’t have the strength or stamina to keep it up for more than a couple of minutes (this is actually pretty hilarious) Then he uses her five-element power (which was also copied over to him), and the two perform the same finishing move as her favorite movie as a kid, which they watched the re-release of during their date. Yelling, lightning, Itano Circus, victory.

The phantom princesses aren’t defeated for good, but they accept Mai is still stronger than them, for now. They promise they’ll be back when they’re stronger. But the bridge harassment will likely stop so I guess it’s a win for Group E.

What about Minase Koito, you say? Who knows? She wasn’t in this at all. Instead, there was a little girl with a teddy bear voiced by Kuno Misaki stalking and watching the group the whole time, with deep admiration. I’d wager it won’t be long before she formally meets them, and she seems eager to become closer to the group, just as Reina yearns to one day be as close to Mai and Haru as they are to each other.

But more than previous episodes, the characters seemed to be edged out by an overabundance of plot and metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Lots of sugar and spice, but too little solid nutrition.

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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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Musaigen no Phantom World – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Winter 2015 season gets off to a whimsical, colorful start with Musaigen no Phantom World, the first episode of which called to mind everything from Haruhi Suzumiya and Charlotte to Chu2Koi and Amaburi. So immediately, then, we have a bit of an issue: this show reminds me of a lot of good shit.

The challenge then, will be to differentiate itself and make its case as a show worth watching for more than the trademarked lovely KyoAni eye candy (though I’ll admit, on Hump Day that might be sufficient anyway). And amidst its familiar setting, themes, character types, animation and dialolgue styles, MPW’s first episode still managed to distinguish itself.

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First, it makes a point to play off our expectations vis-a-vis fanservice. Atletic, busty female lead Kawakami Mai is more concerned with getting the job done than showing a little skin here and there. Shy, impressionable first-year Izumi Reina‘s boob looks ripe for grabbing, but male lead Ichijo Haruhiko manages to course-correct just in time, but thanks to “aid” from his pixie sidekick Ruru, still ends up in a bad position. Finally, Mai has a practical reason for bouncing her boobs up and down: it’s the only way to succeed in a limbo contest.

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Second, all three characters have their positive qualities. Ruru is adorable, obv., but she’s also quite savvy, serving as both a foil and an ally in Haruhiko’s exploits. Mai’s can-do attitude and fighting spirit is tempered by the need to occasionally sigh over dire financial straits (while scolding Haruhiko for sighing along with her). Reina, also frikkin’ cute as all get-out, also sucks stuff up like Kirby, which was very unexpected.

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The phantom-hunting team also gels quickly but believably. All three are competent in very specialized areas, but if one of the three wasn’t present for the utility pole phantom limbo-off, they would not have been able to achieve victory. Haruhiko’s freakish book smarts let the group know what they’re dealing with, Mai’s freakish athleticism appeases the phantoms, and then Reina eats ’em up. Even Reina is sold enough on how good a team the trio makes that she casts aside her initial uncertainty about joining.

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With such good chemistry coming off this trio, one wonders what MPW has in store for the fourth, a rose-haired, perpetually headphones-donning girl who looks like a lone wolf uninterested in teamwork.

So yes, I’m sufficiently charmed by MPW to keep going with it. There was a bit of an infodump rather inelegantly thrown in, and it looks no better or worse than the shows I listed up top, but there’s plenty to like and plenty to tune in to learn.

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Comet Lucifer – 03

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After plucking their host’s last straw by knocking over his perfect pot of curry, Sogo, Kaon, Felia, and the very irritatingly-voiced Moura are kicked out of the cafe, which thankfully still shows signs of the damage Moura caused. They take Felia downtown and show her the sights, and we get a very pleasant, detailed, yet wordless montage of their fun, and likely expensive, day to keep Felia entertained.

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Everything is chipper until in her excitement Felia bumps into a passerby, sending her pigeon-cat cake flying. She tries to use her telekinesis to save it, but Moura startles her, and the cake is dumped on a purple-haired cafe patron, who seemed annoyed but not unreasonably angry with the incident. Turns out he’s a master hacker-terrorist who has been watching Felia for some time, and judging from his expressions and gestures in his dark office, he’s also quite unhinged in the “creepy unhinged villain” kind of way.

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In order to induce as many expressions of fear and worry on his “mademoiselle” Felia (which he watches with relish on cameras, which…ew), he throws the entire city’s traffic control system into chaos, thus turning the city into a game board and the kids game pieces he moves around by controlling the ample technology around them. Even Gus and his blonde buddy aren’t immune from the disarray.

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But every time the Bad Guy tries to close in on Felia, Sogo and Kaon split up and misdirect and serve as decoys to keep him off balance, until he gets angry and steps up his game, activating a spider-type mecha to pursue Kaon and Felia on a cable car. Sogo gets as high up into the air as possible and Kaon throws Soura to him, activating Soura’s mecha transformation.

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Once Soura is in play, it’s Game Over for the bad guy, as his mecha is beaten back and the cable breaks. Felia uses her “force power” to give the cable car a soft landing, while the bad guy falls victim to the cable’s recoil, which gives him a reverse mohawk.

The physics (magic hoverboards and telekinesis aside, of course) were pretty solid, right up until here; such a huge cable would surely have taken off his head, if not more. Instead he gets an old-style anime villain comeuppance, even though he surely put dozens of people in the hospital with his reckless antics…all for his personal entertainment.

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Even the most gorgeous sunsets of the Fall season can’t save this episode, or this show, from the inescapable fact that it is artful, attractive, and often thrilling (and thus watchable) but utterly lacking in substance, making it my Fall guilty pleasure. It’s cotton candy; empty calories with no payoff; a bunch of elaborate fun stuff that happens, and then it’s over. Sure, Alfried joins Gus’ dream team, but we just saw Alfried fail miserably to a couple of kids, so it’s not like he’s that much of a threat. He’s just an overwrought creeper.

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Comet Lucifer – 02

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We return to the caverns where Sogo, Kaon, and the mystery girl who emerged from the giant Giftdium crystal basically stand around trying not to get smushed, incinerated, or riddled with bullets from two dueling mechas: the one that seems to be protecting the girl, and the one piloted by Gus Stewart (who apparently isn’t drunk anymore).

The former ends up winning out, as it has an answer for everything Gus throws at it.  Then the kids fall down another big hole, but this time we’re shown how they survive: the girl’s mecha catches them and cushions their fall. Then Roman and Otto appear literally out of nowhere and call a truce so they can all escape the crumbling caverns.

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Back at the cafe above which Sogo lives, the group determines their next moves. Roman postpones the arranged wedding until further notice, and they wait for the girl to wake up. When she does, she seems to parrot everything Kaon says and beam with glee at every new word, object, or piece of tarte tatin placed in front of her.

In other words, she’s a sponge for information, and seems to be experiencing everything for the first time. She’s also a very cute little kid. While Kaon and the girl are in the shower (amazingly, Sogo doesn’t walk in on them) he finds a curious green rock on the floor. When he tries to saw into it, it reveals itself as some kind of bizarre creature that can talk.

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Meanwhile, Gus Stewart wallows in his failure, but is presented with an even more sophisticated “assault bipetal armor” code-named Efreet, which he agrees to use…well, I’m a little fuzzy on his exact goals…furthering the prosperity and greatness of the entity he serves? Restoring a bit of his old lustre from back in the days of the “Great War?” The city we saw seems like a gorgeous and wonderful place to live; I’m wondering why all these military types are so keen to shake things up when they already have a nice thing going.

And in a rather harsh contrast to the cute, hyper little girl flitting about laughing and naming things, Gus breaks an old comrade out of jail: a killing machine of a kid named “Pack” who makes Gus’ plans even more nebulous. Does he need a co-pilot for Efreet? Will Pack be piloting his own beside him? If capturing Felia (the girl) is his goal, is there really a need for this homicidal maniac?

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Disjointed narratives and clashing tones aside, it was fairly obvious after the mecha protecting Felia vanished without a trace, and a small green ball fell out of Roman’s car, that that green ball was the mecha in miniaturized form, and that one way or another, it was going to activate while inside the cafe, causing a huge amount of damage.

That is indeed what happens when Felia messes up her telekinetic powers and drops hot curry on Sogo. This occurance, along with a crest on Sogo’s hand, show that this mecha, which Felia calls Moura once it appears, isn’t just protecting her, but Sogo as well. Who can say when this bunch of kids will cross paths with Gus again (or other government officials/evil dudes), but I imagine they’ll be able to hold their own with Moura on their side.

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