Senryuu Shoujo – 03 – Bemusement Park

President Amane is all about trying to get Nanako and Eiji together, which includes eavesdropping on a truly bizarre game of charades in which Nanako somehow makes the upward wind you get on a roller coaster. I would have barged in too…where did that come from?

It’s a 4-koma kind of playful comedy that doesn’t always have to, say obey the laws of physics. Or something absurd, like when younger Nanako had temper tantrums, she still wrote senryuu to express herself. Amane’s challenging of Eiji asserting what a “manly man” he is was also amusing.

This all leads to the three making plans to go to an amusement park, but Amane bowing out at the last second in order to make it a date for Nanako and Eiji. The latter is your typical mostly-oblivious fella, who is almost appallingly late on the uptake despite the fact Nanako is flirting with him in writing.

I enjoyed the little white lies Nanako employed to try to get a little closer, whether with the shared soda cup or informing Eiji that her shoelaces broke, possibly implying that the only way for her to go home would be if he carried her.

Alas, Eiji notices she’s wearing shoes that don’t have laces. As with Nanako’s inexplicable wind-summoning, Amane can’t help but spring out from her hiding spot to protest Eiji’s denseness.

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Senryuu Shoujo – 02 – Close Enough

The Lit Club begins an initiative aimed at improving Eiji’s bad-boy image with the rest of the school, though Nanako likes him the way he is, even when his eyes roll back in his head when he’s deep in thought! That’s when Eiji’s beautiful “big sis” Ootsuki Koto shows up to thank Nanako and Amane for taking care of him. Turns out she’s just his childhood friend two years his senior. Then, while having a meal together, Eiji notes how much Nanako eats—not with malice, mind you—and Nanako starts to fear she’s gaining weight.

When her little brother teases her for eating as much as a sumo wrestler, Nanako resolves to go on a diet, but Koto offers to train her instead, using her military self-defense skills to whip her into shape. Time passes, and an excited Nanako takes Eiji’s hand and places it on her stomach…which would be quite forward if we didn’t know her true intentions were honorable. Instead, Eiji has to mention how he’s never felt a girl’s stomach and thus has no basis for comparison for Nanako to realize her faux pas.

Still, one think Nanako shouldn’t be ashamed of is that she likes Eiji—a genuinely nice guy—just the way he is. If others get to know him, they’ll learn the same thing. Koto already knows this, but when Amane asks if she likes anyone (if she had to give her a name, it would be Eiji), she says she doesn’t; not the way Amane means, anyway. Koto is fine with her and Eiji just the way they are, even if it means him getting closer to Nanako.

As it is, SS is a school slice-of-life with romantic undertones that just happens to integrate haiku wherever it can. And like that show about women enjoying various alcoholic beverages after work, it succeeds at its limited domain just as much as it needs to—which is to say, it’s fine.

Senryuu Shoujo – 01 (First Impressions) – Five by Five, With Seven in Between

Senryuu Shoujo is a tonic for a long, stressful day. Its heroine Yukishiro Nanako is also the antithesis of the non-studying Ao-chan, the first episode of which was most notable for its catchy OP. Rather than assume the worst of anyone, Nanako embraces her classmate Busujima Eiji, a nice book with a rough cover, as a fellow devotee of senryuu, a kind of haiku.

Unlike Eiji, Nanako doesn’t talk. We hear Hanazawa Kana’s voice, but it’s only in Nanako’s head. She communicates with senryuu, gestures, and body language…and gets by pretty well! The idea of someone developing senryuu as a means of organizing one’s thoughts and expressing them with a manageable, reliable structure, is an enticing one.

But more than that, Nanako is just adorable as all get out, and her unlikely friendship with a former delinquent—who got his scary face bandage from his cute little sister—is most endearing. And at an economical twelve minutes, we may have a lightweight slice-of-life keeper here.

Fate / Zero – 15

I hope you’ll forgive me if this review doesn’t hold up to my usual vigorous editorial standards, as I must admit I am rather stunned—gobsmacked, you might say—by what I just witnessed, and whenever that happens, I tend to get a bit too florid in my language. Consider yourself warned.

That happens, at this magnitude, very rarely indeed. Of the episodes I consider almost perfect, I must count this among them. At this point in my viewing of Fate/Zero, if there was one and only one episode I had to show someone, it would be this one.

It’s a perfect encapsulation; an epic full-length motion picture, compressed into a scant third of an hour; the crystallization of the ultimate potential embedded in its run thus far. I shudder to think it could ever get better than this, but having seen this, I shouldn’t underestimate this show’s capacity for ever-expanding spectacle. And I won’t.

In case you forgot the events of this episode: Rider decides to trap Caster and his monster in his Reality Marble to buy the rest of the team time to figure out a way to defeat it. Righteousness ensues.

As Berserker and Archer continue dogfighting in their respective badass aircraft, Kariya’s swarm of bugs are harmlessly absorbed by Tokiomi’s magical barrier. As Kariya’s body breaks down, Tokiomi delivers “mercy” by setting him ablaze. The animation used to portray the burning Kariya looked like nothing else in the show so far and was hauntingly novel and chilling in its style and execution.

Once Rider transports the monster to his Reality Marble, Iri gets a call from Kiritsugu, but has Waver answer the phone. Kiritsugu tells Waver to tell Rider to drop the monster at a specific point of his choosing once the Marble prison fails. He also tells Lancer that Saber has the only weapon that can defeat the monster, but can’t use it due the wound made by Gáe Buidhe.

Possessed of that new information, Lancer’s next move is pure Chivalry: That monster cannot be allowed to terrorize innocent people. His spear is preventing the only weapon that can defeat it from being used. Ergo, Gáe Buidhe must be destroyed.

Saber’s claim that she bears the wound as a mark of pride, not as a burden, but Lancer knows she’s being way too nice, and does what a true Knight such as himself would do: snap the spear in half. Once he does, Saber immediately prepares her Noble Phantasm.

As Berserker destroys Archer’s aircraft, Kotomine Kirei approaches the barely-alive Kariya…and starts to heal him, cracking a smile as he does. It would seem the Kirei Rebellion against his father and Tokiomi has officially begun in earnest.

Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber and her newly-released weapon. It then falls to Lancer to transport onto Berserker’s jet and disable it, and even with just one spear, he gets the job done.

That leaves the area secure for Kiritsugu to launch a flare at the spot where Rider is to release the monster. After the sheer awesome lunacy of Rider’s chariot and Berserker and Archer’s aircraft, it is quite amusing indeed to see Kiritsugu in his unassuming little raft, likely fitted with the most efficient and durable engine that provides sufficient and not excessive power to get him into position.

Once Rider has the signal, the monster is released, and the other end of the grand stage given over to the King of Knights so she can shine.

Saber’s attack is singularly gorgeous in an episode of visually arresting imagery, but its beauty is only enhanced by the reactions of those watching it unfold, and the poetic words of Iri describing what the weapon is, and in doing so, describing who Arturia Pendragon truly is:

That sword is the embodiment of the sad, yet noble, dream of all soldiers, past, present, and future, who lie dying on the field of battle, clutched to their hearts with their last breath. She carries their will as her pride, bidding them to remain steadfast in their loyalty. Now, the undefeated king sings aloud, the name of the miracle she holds in her hand. It’s name is…Excalibur.

This is the unique, nigh divine power bestowed upon Saber in exchange for the tremendous burden she bears. And while Archer laughed at her devotion and Rider doubted her kingship, for all their power amassed across space and time, neither of them could do anything like what Saber does to this monster. This isn’t just Saber saving the city and the day; this is Saber dunking on her doubters. Suddenly they are the ones who look small, puny, and cowed.

As for poor crazy Caster, I daresay I almost feel sorry for the evil son of a bitch when he meets his all-too-beautiful end, which includes a vision of his beloved Jeanne (who does look a lot like Saber). Almost.

While Uryuu went out experiencing something he was looking for all his life and finally found, Caster too experiences a kind of quasi-redemptive epiphany at the very end. Both men end up essentially forsaking everything they had ever done in their miserable lives, condemning it as wasted time and effort in the face of the truths they face at the end.

As the monster Excalibur effortlessly cleaved clean in half dissipates into the night, Archer asks Rider if he’s still not convinced of Saber’s kingship. Rider acknowledges the power, but still feels its too much for one young woman; not so much a legend as a great tragedy. Rider and Archer also agree to duel one another soon…but not quite yet, as they want to recover from this battle and fight at full strength.

Finally, while Saber lost an unwanted admirer in Caster, she gained a new one tonight through her actions: Archer. Where Rider sees tragedy, Archer sees vivid beauty; something to which nothing in his vast treasury can compare. I’ll tell you what’s damn near beyond compare: this episode.

The last episode, in its efficient, businesslike way, laid out all of the various facets of the battle and set the conditions for victory, while also keeping expectations…reasonable. This episode took those facets and resolved them into a gorgeous jewel that shined with golden radiance, blasting through all expectations like Excalibur through a fortress-sized demon. The remaining ten episodes have their work cut out for them.

Gakkou Gurashi! – 07

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Mii-kun’s friend Kei was fond of the author/poet/essayist Kamo no Chomei (1153-1216), and his serene masterpiece An Account of My Hut (Hojoki):

The flow of the river is ceaseless, yet the water is never the same.

The girls of the School Life Club travel that river; the river of life. Even holed up in that room at the mall, Mii-kun was like a leaf drifting atop the surface river; living but nothing else. Now she has encountered other leaves on the river; now joined in a clump, they travel along the flow together. Sometimes the currents are arduous, but they’re stronger together, both in body and mind.

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The foam that floats on stagnant pools, now vanishing, now forming, are not long in their duration. So, too, it is with man and his dwellings in the world. They are the blink of an eye.

How true is that statement in the world of our club: one moment life in their world is normal, the next, everything has changed. A great number of bubbles in that foam popped that day, and continue to pop, but the girls’journey continues.

Those who are powerful are filled with greed; and those who have no protectors are despised.

The “powerful” of Gakkou Gurashi are the zombies, who are the embodiment of greed (they want only flesh…no doubt including brains). They prey on those who have no protectors. Rii-san, Kurumi, and Mii-kun protect each other, as well as Yuki and Taroumaru.

Possessions bring many worries; in poverty there is sorrow.

You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, eh? The girls’ possessions are few, but those they retain—from Rii-san’s hot plate; Kurumi’s shovel; Mii-kun’s Discman; Yuki’s hat; to the materials for letter-writing and distributing to a mysterious key that belonged to Megu-nee—as well as the friendships they share, bring them worry every day. Their greatest poverty is being the only living humans they know about, even as they assure themselves there are others out there.

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He who asks another’s help becomes his slave; he who nurtures others is fettered by affection. He who does not, appears deranged.

Mii-kun is only a “slave” as a result of being saved insofar as she has agreed to nurture Yuki’s illusions along with Rii-san and Kurumi. Rii-san, the mom of the group, is deservedly admired and loved by the others.

Wherever one may live, whatever work one may do, is it possible even for a moment to find a haven for the body or peace for the mind?

The club lives in the school, which is both a haven and a prison. They must ration food to keep their bodies alive, and they must kepe Yuki lucid and happy so that her smile can keep their minds at peace. Yet Mii-kun remarks this can’t go on forever; they ask too much of Yuki.

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It is a bare ten feet square and less than seven feet high. … I laid a foundation and roughly thatched a roof. … I have added a lean-to on the south and a porch of bamboo. Along the west wall I built a shelf for holy water and installed an image of the Buddha. The light of the setting sun shines between its eyebrows. … On the wall that faces the north I have built a little shelf on which I keep three or four black leather baskets that contain books of poetry and music and extracts from the sacred writings. Beside them stand a folding koto and lute.

The school by any other description; a shelter of modest dimensions and modest appointments, but full of thought and love and care. Solar panels, desk barricades, designated sleeping and eating facilities…

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Outside the hut is a fenced garden to the north and a rock pool to the south with a bamboo pipe draining water. The woods are close, providing plenty of brush-wood, and only to the west is a clearing beyond vines and overgrown valleys.

The garden where the club grows vegetables to supplement their packaged rations is on the roof of the school. The “woods” are the devastated, potentially lethal city beyond the school’s walls; the “clearing” is the schoolyard where the zombies roam much like wild animals; predators to be respected and avoided, but ultimately to coexist with. They too flow within the river, only they lurk below it, having drowned.

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Knowing myself and the world, I have no ambitions and do not mix in the world. I seek only tranquility; I rejoice in the absence of grief.

The club members could easily lapse into a state of hermitry, never venturing too far form the school or too long in the woods, where they know they could meet their death. Yet Rii-san, Kurumi, and Mii-kun all purport to have ambitions vis-a-vis the world. Things won’t be like this forever. It is a dream they will one day wake up from. That hope keeps them going.

Meanwhile, Yuki rejoices in the absence of grief; inadvertantly refusing to fully acknowledge the real world. She is the ideal of tranquility and peace of mind no undeluded person in this world will ever hope to achieve. There’s a close call when Yuki thinks about who was in the car after rescuing Mii-kun, but a few white lies and she finds Megu-nee right where she should be.

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The dew may fall and the flower remain, of the flower may wither before the dew is gone.

The girls, Yuki excluded, face their mortality every day, see places and things that may, and in all likelihood will, outlast them. The choice they face is whether to despair at their seemingly inevitable end, or to embrace the relative beauty and peace of their present. situation.

The fact that Hojoki, words written by Chomei eight hundred years ago, is a testament to the fundamental truth of the ceaseless river upon which we only drift a short while. But hopefully Rii-san, Kurumi, Mii-kun and Yuki will see many more evenings together.

The question is, will Yuki ever emerge from the hut of tranquility her mind created, where she currently resides?

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Chihayafuru 2 – 25 (Fin)

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After the tournament, Chihaya sees more specialists, who determine she has enchrondromatosis in her right index finger. She decides to undergo surgery, which will require anesthesia and a week-long stay in the hospital. She spends her time studying a film of Arata’s match given to her by Coach Sakurazawa, and calls Arata, who tells her he always things of the time he and she first played karuta in his apartment when they were young. Chihaya also composes some poetry, some of which Oe recognizes as Chihaya expressing feelings for Arata. Oe prods Taichi to try harder with Chihaaya, and arranges for the two to attend a Fujisaki karuta camp on their own once Chihaya is discharged. Arata prepares to move to Tokyo to attend college.

With all the karuta matches played and champions decided, we were thinking this would be a pleasant little epilogue to wrap up loose ends. And while it achieved that, so much more stuff went down here; stuff that sets up an almost assured third season that we don’t think we’ll be able to resist. This was a beautiful episode that had Chihaya cooped up in hospital, leaving her little to do but study Arata, think about Arata, talk to Arata, and summon feelings for Arata that she doesn’t understand; i.e. love. She realizes that her love for him and karuta are intertwined; her means of proving to herself and him that she’s worthy of his love. But she may already have it; the most fun Arata ever had is when he played with her, and it’s the very thing that keeps him calm whatever the nature of the match he’s playing. She contributes to his greatness.

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Also brilliant was the use of Chihaya’s poetry, as read by Oe (by far the best character in the show at reading poetry) to indicate that Taichi’s window is rapidly closing, and further dalliances only make his climb steeper. Those poems, and watching her connect them to moments of Chihaya’s behavior, moved us deeply. Oe the Yenta is firmly on Taichi’s side, likening him to a figure from the hundred poems she so adores, and one who she doesn’t want to lose, so it’s cute and awesome that she takes steps to get Taichi into a position to make a move, any move, to keep him in the gate versus Arata.

As Oe says, Chihaya can’t possibly stay clueless forever, especially when she’s unconsciously writing love poems to Arata as it is! Perhaps, after the second season finally gave Mizusawa taste victory at the top, the third season (again, we’re just assuming there’ll be one) will address the love triangle with more authority, while also continuing Chihaya’s rise to defeat the queen and face Arata. Until then, the fine quality of this season was every bit the equal of the first, and even surpassed it in some regards. We can only move forward.


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

Stray Observations:

  • The reaction of horror of her friends at the news of the name of her condition is pretty priceless.
  • Chihaya’s practice swings (and the nurse’s scolding) were also quite adorable.
  • Coach Sakurazawa proves she’s quite the decent sort, providing Chihaya with a wealth of education (and very accurate!) karuta analysis of Arata and Shinobu.
  • Everything about Chihaya’s phone call to Arata was just flippin’ fantastic.
  • Arata happens to be looking at a magazine cover with Chihaya’s sister Chitose in a swimsuit when Chihaya calls and mentions Chitose. Weird, but great!
  • Porky is wearing a t-shirt with PORK on it. WE WANT THAT SHIRT.
  • In a nice surprise and blast from the past, the end credits role with the OP from the first season, which we liked a LOT more than the second one. Still love it!
  • That’s fifty episodes of Chihaya and the gang watched. It was a fun ride, and we hope there’ll be 25 more in the future.

Aku no Hana – 03

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Kasuga tries in vein to dispose of the Saeki’s incriminating gym uniform. After school at the library, when he fails to produce an essay for Nakamura, she strips him down and dresses him in the uniform, telling him she’s a deviant like him. She tells them they’ll be hanging out after school, and they do. His friends and parents start to notice is strange behavior, culminating in him standing up to defend Nakamura when a classmate accuses her of stealing lunch money.

The Devil pulls the strings by which we’re worked:
By all revolting objects lured, we slink
Hellwards; each day down one more step we’re jerked
Feeling no horror, through the shades that stink.

How much weird shit can you get up to before you become a “deviant?” Is there a specific line that must be crossed, which Kasuga assures himself he hasn’t? He still clings to the notion that as long as his feelings for Saeki remain pure, he’s good. Nakamura, on the other hand, thinks about how great it would be if all the gloom within her spread across the world. She manipulates and sexually assaults Kasuga, who is too weak and shocked and cowed to resist.

In Kasuga, she sees what she wants to see: a kindred spirit. He still feels horror in what’s happening but she seems at peace with herself. She’s accepted what she is and is excited at the prospect of Kasuga being just like her deep down. Kasuga tells her The Flowers of Evil is like him – something that will never be understood by the un-literary people of his town. But count Nakamura among those townspeople in that she doesn’t give a shit about Baudelaire. All she wants is Evil Kasuga: Unplugged.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Stray Observations:

  • The undressing in the libarary is the most disturbing scene in the series so far, but we doubt it will be the last. It really underscores how little power Kasuga has.
  • That said, Kasuga appeals to his good side by standing up for Nakamura in spite of what she’s doing, since the truth is Nakamura was with him at the time of the money theft.
  • Rotoscoped animation really is a perfect fit for the tone of this series. Anime like Gargantia soars, but this series slinks and slithers.
  • Yamada’s sudden kung-fu greeting was pretty funny.

Aku no Hana – 01

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The bookish Kasuga Takao is engrossed Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), but also nursing a hard crush on Saeki Nanaki, the top student in his class. One day he forgets the book in the classroom and runs back to pick it up. He also finds Saeki’s gym uniform on the floor.

Uh oh…an anime that leans heavily on literature we’ve never read…but seriously, just what the hell was this? It looked totally different from everything else this season, or year, for that matter; using real-life actors and rotoscoping them. The result is a totally different visual language from what we’re used to, which is more than a little jarring. So many anime are escapist; this recalls and even amplifies the reality of a humdrum existence. Every building is dingy; every piece of metal is a little rusty, and every sky is not quite blue enough to be happy. It draws us in, but not entirely because that’s what we want.

We can’t help but feel like the realistic movement of the characters and their natural way of conversing together, combined with the overall bleakness of the show’s palette, all conspire to unnerve and unsettle us. We’re talking about a kid who likes The Flowers of Evil, and while we don’t know much about it, we do know it was written in a time when huge changes were happening in society, including the nature of beauty. While the show may want us to pity Kasuga and his dull existence, we’re not meant to particularly like the guy, either, and…we don’t! He kinda creeps us out. But we also kinda want to know what will happen to him, so we’ll keep watching…for now.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Chihayafuru – 01

High schooler Chihaya Ayase is very beautiful, like her model older sister, but her odd behavior at school earned her the nickname “Beauty in Vain.” She also happens to be a decent player of the obscure card-grabbing game Karuta, though it wasn’t always that way. In a flashback, she remembers her classmate Wataya being teased because of his accent and tatty clothes, but after a chance encounter while he’s on his paperboy rounds – and an incident where both she and Wataya are pushed down and ostrasized by her childhood friend Taichi – Wataya shows her how he plays Karuta, and his dream to become a master. She shares that dream, and back in the present, starts a Karuta club at her high school.

This is the second straight series debut to be dominated by a flashback, and why not, best to establish the character’s motivations right off the bat. This was a strong start. Chihaya had always dreamt for her sister to excel at something – modeling – but the awkward, bespectacled Wataya breaks her out of that. We liked how their initial one-on-one encounter was just pure chance: he was a paperboy on his early morning route, and she was outside waiting for the paper with her sister’s picture on the front page. Of course, to Wataya, it looked like she was waiting for him.

We tend to see Japanese society in best light possible, but this series shows that teasing and ostracism for being “different” is no less present there than anywhere else. We got annoyed when classmates talked about how Chihaya is pretty, but that that beauty is “wasted” whenever she “talks or does something.” Hmph. No matter, we like Chihaya, and this series, so far. We knew nothing about Karuta, but after watching this, we now know we probably wouldn’t be too good at it. Memorizing poetry in hiragana and rapid recall aren’t our strong suits.


Rating: 3.5

Dantalian no Shoka 11

The entire episode is a flashback to The Great War when Huey was a lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, where he quickly distinguishes himself. It focuses on his captain, Ilas, who switches sides to the Germans. He is writing a war anthology containing the voices of the battlefield. A biblioprincess, Raziel, visits him one night to tell him it is the egg of a phantom book. He meets Huey in a dogfight, at which time Huey tells him he should be dead, and uses the anthology to defeat him. Raziel’s keykeeper – whome Ilas met earlier as a bartender – raised him from the grave to finish the book, but when he didn’t, he returned him to the afterlife.

The subjects of this series have been as wide-ranging as those contained within a library, and I like that. The episodes can be enjoyed individually due to their unique and diverse characters. This week, there’s no Dalian, but another biblioprincess – the third we’ve encountered – but rather than focusing on her and her keykeeper, it’s mostly about their instrument, Ilas. This episode is also full of WWI-era bi-(and tri-)plane action, which when set against the picturesque European countryside, makes for a most impressive and bouyant setting. For Raziel’s (brief) part, she is quite nimble and light on her feet, sporting a very cool get-up.

Huey and Ilas are both total Wright-nerds and adept at “basquet-ball”. They’re both aces (Huey won the Victoria Cross and gave it to his underling without a second thought), but neither consider themselves “warriors”. Ilas is more interested in crafting his poetic war anthology than killing bogies, while we all know that when the war ended, Huey moved on to solving mysteries with Dalian. It must have been strange for Huey’s CO and mentor to die, then suddenly reappear on the enemy side. A nice touch is the key to Dalian that Huey mistakes for the key to the manor – perhaps he didn’t yet know his mystical calling?


Rating: 3.5